Cindy Bither
Administrative Assistant
P: (540) 464-7207
F: (540) 464-7443

111 Smith Hall
Lexington, VA 24450

'Get Out There and Get Active'

FullTextImage/img/@altCadets pose with school children in Panama. -- Photo courtesy of VMI International Programs.

Service Trip to Panama Offers Adventure

LEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 5, 2013 -- Four VMI cadets got a free, first-hand glimpse at life outside the United States when they traveled to Panama last summer on a trip paid for by the George and Carol Olmsted Foundation.

The Olmsted Foundation sponsors overseas trips for commissioning cadets, with the goal of preparing future military leaders for careers that will increasingly call for multicultural understanding and a global perspective, said Col. David Miller, director of international programs at VMI.

This year, four cadets will have the same Olmsted-funded opportunity for cultural immersion – but this time, the destination is Vietnam. That trip, to be led by Jim Adams ’71, is scheduled for March 8-17.

Cadets to Spend Furlough in Vietnam

LEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 5, 2012 -- Four VMI cadets found out in late January that they’ll soon be experiencing an incredibly unique opportunity: an almost free trip to Vietnam.
Cadets Nicholas Bruno ’13, John Bolen ’14, Nathan Meade ’13, and Benjamin Cross ’13 will make the trip courtesy of the Olmsted Foundation, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization that sponsors cultural immersion opportunities for commissioning cadets. Those selected were chosen on the basis of plans to commission in the armed services upon graduation, limited or no previous international experience, and financial need. The Olmsted Foundation will pick up $3,000 of the $3,195 cost for each cadet.

Bruno and Bolen plan to commission in the Army upon graduation from VMI. Meade plans to commission in the Air Force, while Cross will commission in the Marine Corps.

Jim Adams ’71, director of VMI’s Writing Center, will lead the trip to Vietnam, which is scheduled for March 8-17, during spring furlough. The journey, open to cadets, faculty, staff, and alumni, will explore the cultural and military history of a nation whose war for independence from France spawned almost two decades of U.S. military involvement there.

Sign-up for the Vietnam trip is still open to those already holding passports, and will likely remain open until mid-February.

Adams, whose father served a tour of duty in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, told a group of approximately 30 cadets who attended an informational meeting Dec. 12 that they would never again have a chance to go to Vietnam for such an affordable price.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” he commented. Adams noted that the trip he led to Iwo Jima last year cost $4,000 per participant.

This year’s trip is being organized by Educational Historical Tours Inc., a Woodbridge, Va.-based group that offers trips to sites with a significant military history, and an American veteran of the war will serve as tour guide. The itinerary includes stops at the “Hanoi Hilton” prison, where American prisoners of war were kept; the Citadel, site of the 1968 Tet Offensive; and the Cu Chi tunnels, which the Viet Cong used as hiding places.

Travelers will also get a chance to see the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who is preserved under glass in a mausoleum in the still-Communist country.

Adams stressed, however, that equal attention will be paid to the cultural history of Vietnam. Visitors to the Mekong Delta, he said, will encounter a way of life that has scarcely changed in the last 200 years.

“We will go into the Vietnam of today, which quite frankly may not be that much different from the Vietnam of 50 years ago during the war, or the Vietnam of the 18th century,” Adams told the cadets. “That part of Vietnam hasn’t changed much.”

“For the people of Vietnam, the war is ancient history today,” Adams continued. “These people love Americans, south and north. And we’re told they’re one of the most hospitable peoples in the world.”

For more information about the trip to Vietnam, contact Adams at or 464-7486.

Going on the trip to Panama last summer “was one of the greatest adventures of my life,” said Cadet James Ethington ’14, a history major from Prince George, Va. Accompanying Ethington on the 16-day trip were Katie Kondas ’14, a civil engineering major from Manassas, Va.; Justin McCarty ’14, a civil engineering major from Mechanicsville, Va.; and Patrick Callaway ’14, an international studies major from Midlothian, Va. The VMI foursome was joined by an equal number of cadets from Virginia Tech, the institution sponsoring the trip.

For Ethington, just making the journey was a major milestone, because he’d never been outside of the United States before. He’d never even been on an airplane. But after two smooth flights – one from Washington, D.C., to Miami, and another from Miami to Panama City – he found himself face-to-face with life in the developing world.

“It was very interesting,” said Ethington, who plans to commission in the Army after graduating from VMI. “Everybody says you don’t look at what you have until you see somebody with less, and it was actually like that. Those people didn’t have much money but they made it work. Everywhere you looked, there was somebody working. They worked from the time the sun came up until they couldn’t see their hand in front of their face.”

While in Panama, the cadets engaged in several service projects, including cleaning up at a local health clinic and cooking lunch in a day-care center run by nuns. They visited the slum areas of Colon, one of the poorest cities in Panama, and they also met the Kuna Indians who inhabit the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama.

“It was sobering on one hand, but I remember the cadets commenting on how warm their reception was from the locals,” said Miller of the cadets’ exposure to slum life. One of the primary goals of the Olmsted program, he added, is to ensure that cadets get a deeper look at the country they’re visiting than a tourist would get.

“Those are the kind of experiences that will pay off as a young officer,” Miller added. “It’s kind of a cliché, but that’s the whole idea.”

Ethington concurred, saying, “[The trip] got me more culturally aware.”

He’d stepped off the plane eager to try out his Spanish, a language he’s been studying since high school, but he quickly found himself overwhelmed by the natives’ rapid-fire speech. Not surprisingly, he found he could understand much of what was being said around him, even though speaking was a difficulty and slang was confusing.

Because of the trip, “I know how to interact with people that don’t speak English or come from the same kind of background that I come from,” Ethington continued. He added a bit of advice for any cadet considering overseas travel: “Take advantage of all of the activities and talking to people. Speak the language of where you are. Get out there and get active with it.”

–Mary Price