By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (April 13, 2010) – William Chu left for Basic Training on April 19, putting aside competing priorities and some discouragements to take on the biggest challenge of his life – to become an officer in the United States Army.
Chu has taken on many challenges in his 25 years; first graduating from Burnsville High School, earning a degree in Geography from the University of Minnesota, and is now his second year at William Mitchell College of Law. He has put that on hold to follow through on this ambition that he has held on to since boyhood.
The fact that Chu can become an officer is more important now than ever before, as Chu said he had reluctantly dismissed it a few years ago. As a college freshman he was taking military science courses with the U of M Reserve Officer Training Corps, when he learned that his eyesight prevented him from becoming an officer.
Nevertheless, Chu said the cadre of the Golden Gopher Battalion were tough and motivating. He credits ROTC with instilling standards and he still wanted to serve.
“I didn’t imagine that it would be that hard and that kind of geared me up for wanting it more,” said Chu.
After school he went to work for various companies and was considering a permanent position with an accounting firm when his now-or-never moment prompted a visit to an Army recruiter. He wanted to serve as an enlisted soldier, when the recruiter informed Chu that his eyesight would not be a barrier as a candidate for Officers Candidate School.
Chu’s life took a new turn and he put everything else on hold.
It was still a difficult process to even get into OCS, as Chu had to complete a National Security Questionnaire, pass a board interview, physicals and psychological evaluations, and request letters of support from commanders, professors, employers and family friends.
“One thing in William’s case, and with all of our OCS candidates, is that we look for individuals that have their bachelors degrees already and have potential to succeed as a leader,” said Captain Roy Surita, Commander of the Saint Paul U.S. Army Recruiting Company. “He is going in as an officer and he will be expected to inspire, enforce standards and to lead and motivate soldiers much older than him.”
Surita said the leadership style of enlisted and commissioned officers is basically the same, and that every soldier is eventually groomed for some type of leadership position.
“This is the route that he has chosen,” Surita added.
Command standards are important to prepare an officer who can expect to make the rank of captain within two years and become a company commander in three. They learn to embrace the unexpected as the command they receive may be outside of their specialty depending on the changing needs of the Army.
A commission brings greater responsibility to accomplish the mission and also for the safety of their subordinates, said Chu, describing good leadership as preparing to accomplish something bigger than serving themselves.
“A leader with an ego trip is taking the wrong approach and probably has some Napoleonic issues,’ he added.
Chu said military leadership differs from the pyramid style leadership of the civilian world where everything channels upwards.
“The more I drill the more I understand that everyone leads in some capacity and everyone follows in some capacity,” he said.
After 10 weeks of Basic Training at Fort Sill Oklahoma, Chu will then attend OCS for another 12 weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon successful completion Chu will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the USAR – and then complete another five-month course in his military specialty.
Chu was sworn in last December and selected the Army occupation of Human Resources Specialist (given the nomenclature 42A) and will work as an Adjutant Generals officer at the personnel branch of the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion at Arden Hills Reserve Center.
The process for delayed entry for officers and enlisted begins by enrolling in the Future Soldier Training Program, a direct support mechanism for soldiers and families. It includes a Web site that details everything from military post descriptions to packing lists and more in-depth information on training, advancement and support networks.
In the months leading up to basic training, Chu attended monthly drills to learn first hand about the job, the people and the mission.
“He has already stepped into a leadership position at Arden Hills, and is doing an outstanding job,” said Surita.
A potential officer will rank their top field choice preferences, and the Army tends to work with them within the top depending on immediate priority occupations that may match their skills.
When Chu returns from nearly a year’s worth of active duty training he will work at headquarters on personnel files, drafting operations orders and duties related to the mission of the unit in disseminating information to civilian forces abroad through multimedia.
“They took me down to HHC and showed me the shops they have, and how it is structured,” said Chu.
The ‘shops’ that Chu speak of include “S-1”, where he will work on personnel issues from pay and awards, to assignment requests and legal matters.
S-2 deals with intelligence and security matters, with deployment and mission information along with analysis that is used for command recommendations. This is where the unit military police work, and where security information is stored such as radio codes and mission maps.
S-3 works with training and operations matters that range from ensuring personnel and unit qualifications are up to date, to ammunition, deployment and tactical operations.
S-4 is supply and is the channel for requisitions.
“Each has different areas of responsibility,” said Chu. “When you are in psy-ops, not everyone doing psy-ops work.”
This is a time in our nation’s history when servicemen and women can expect to experience periods of hazardous duty during their enlistment. Chu said that he puts it all in perspective as a decision based on something he wants to do and it all “comes with the territory.”
“You stand ready to serve,” said Chu. “You can’t pick and choose, and say ‘well, oh, things are going nice and easy so I’ll do it this year’.
“You are either going to do it or you won’t,” he added. “Events happen and you do what you have to do, and you just live with it. I mean, I don’t enlist because it’s convenient. You do it because you want to and I wasn’t getting any younger.”
Chu has already repaid his college loans and said the Loan Repayment Program will be nice for his law school tuition, but that it wasn’t the selling point for his enlistment.
“I was going to do it anyway,” he said.
President Truman signed the desegregation order to integrate the Army in 1948, establishing a policy equal treatment and opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. At the time some high ranking military leaders said the policy would work only when it was a fact of life in American society.
Yet, the military has since become a model of multicultural integration and minority advancement – that perhaps has acted to encourage larger societal goals of the nation.
Chu said that many people have a misconception that the military is some sort of “rigid, pseudo fascist” world where people are forced to conform.” When all things are equal, he said people would naturally ask ‘why not stay on the civilian side and do what you please?’
Chu said he expected his unit to be mostly people of European descent or at the that it would reflect his corporate experience where he felt like he was holding a token position to satisfy diversity requirements and would never get any real advancement.
Chu said diversity wasn’t his priority in joining the military but that he was pleasantly surprised.
“Its more diverse there than I guess the general population is in this region,” he said. “I saw more Blacks, Asians and Hispanics than I did as an undergrad at the U of M; than in law school and at the many jobs I worked at with an investment bank and at the State Capitol.”
Chu said the integration of race and gender is also a normal part of a “very comfortable and professional environment” where things seem to “gel better” than his other work environments.
“I can’t speak for the entire Army, but I assume it is same every where,” he added.
Chu was born in Minnesota to an immigrant family from Hong Kong. His father escaped the “Chi-com’s” (Chinese Communists) to Hong Kong as a teenager in the 1950s, and moved with his family to San Francisco when immigration policies opened up in the 1960s. He completed high school and worked several jobs in the Bay Area before returning to Hong Kong to marry.
The family came to Minnesota in the 1970s, where a sister was already working as a bank inspector at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. The family operated a restaurant for some time in Burnsville.
Coming from a business-oriented family, Chu said there was not a strong history of military service and that he was encouraged into education and entrepreneurship. His elder and younger sisters both studied business and work in the corporate world.
Chu knew from childhood that he wanted to serve and said his family’s reluctance motivated him in an inverse way. He still plans to finish law school and when he is not studying or working, Chu enjoys hiking, biking recreational soccer, and volunteering with Big Brothers & Big Sisters.