RICHMOND, Va. –
Cadet Jack Milenski knocked a long-time goal off his bucket list when he spent the spring of his sophomore year training alongside the British Army in the United Kingdom. Milenski, enrolled in the Virginia Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program and now a junior at the Virginia Military Institute, experienced a semester abroad at the University of Salford, outside Manchester, England.
When Milenski learned of the study abroad opportunity, he jumped at the chance. Visiting the U.K. had long been a goal of his and the chance to attend school there and train alongside partners seems like the perfect chance.
“You first have to get specific classes approved by various department heads to make sure the credits would count towards your degree,” he said. “Make sure you have a good standing discipline wise with the school and the appropriate [grade point average] to be accepted.”
Military service was something Milenski always knew he wanted to do and it when his older sister started receiving brochures during her high school years that his plans for the future started to solidify.
“I was in fourth grade when she had received something in the mail about the Virginia Military Institute,” he said. “It was a military academy close to home and I kept that in the back of my mind. I knew I wanted to serve.”
Fast forward a few years, and Milenski was accepted into VMI and started his college career with a major in international studies and minor in national security. Then, he enrolled in the Virginia Army National Guard’s SMP. SMP cadets participate both in ROTC at their respective schools and in the Virginia Army National Guard. They drill once a month with the National Guard and conduct training that prepares them for ROTC Advanced Camp. They earn a monthly paycheck for drilling, and become eligible for a variety of other benefits as National Guard Soldiers.
“I wanted to jump-start my military career as a Soldier while continuing my studies at VMI,” he said. “While I attend school, I can begin my time in service and receive additional training until I commission. The monthly stipend has certainly come in handy while taking classes.”
With complete freedom to select what school overseas he wanted to attend, Milenski picked Salford. The exchange was part of the Manchester and Salford University Officer Training Corps, also known as the UOTC.
The UTOC is like ROTC in the U.S. and British Army Reservists conduct the training for the program.
Weekdays in the U.K. for Milenski usually included physical training, including runs of 4-5 miles, morning formation, classes and homework.
“I was surprised by the quality of training we received,” he said. “I got to participate in a 52-mile hike over two days on the west coast and a spring for a week. I was also invited to have dinner at the Great Hall in Edinburg by a VMI legacy.”
Once or twice a month, Milenski said, he participated in FTXs that lasted from 3-7 days and focused on building the foundation of military knowledge for the cadets.
“The rucks there are very nice and I was able to learn slightly different patrolling methods,” he said. "Honestly, from my experience, our two armies are not much different in the way they operate.”
Milenski had the opportunity to qualify on the U.K.'s SA80 rifle, which he considers his favorite weapon.
“Going to the range was one of my favorite things," he said. “You experience so much of the English countryside and can see for miles and miles; it was so pretty. Along with that, you’re shooting a rifle. It’s just fun.”
With a strong interest in commissioning into military intelligence, Milenski was excited about getting to shadow their intelligence unit for a few days.
“It was cool to see how an intelligence unit works,” he said. “Take advantage of every single opportunity that they offer. If they offer additional weekend training or special activities like the 52-mile ruck, you should go for it – always expand your horizons.”
Milenski said it was a tremendous experience to see different teaching methods in a military environment compared to what he was used to seeing in the U.S.
“I gained experience in different leadership styles and strategies that I will carry with me throughout my military career,” he said. “I made great friends and connections, which was a definite bonus and I picked up a few tips and skills along the way, which I will be sure to share with my friends back home.”
Once the semester ended, Milenski connected with British Army Reservists for additional training to fill in the gap before heading to Spain to study Spanish in Barcelona for the summer.
“The cadets, NCO’s and officers have been an absolute delight to work with,” he said. “The good humor and the respect afforded to everyone has made learning in the environment extremely enjoyable. I will truly miss them all when I return home.”