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Olmsted Trip Offers New Perspectives to Cadets

Olmsted cadets and faculty posing during their adventures on the Olmsted trip during spring furlough 2022.

Olmsted cadets and faculty pose during their adventures on the Olmsted trip during this year’s spring furlough.—Photo courtesy Col. Houston Johnson V.

Fourteen 1st Class cadets got a taste of life in southeast Europe as they traveled to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina over spring furlough. The trip, led by Maj. Jochen Arndt, Ph.D., and Col. Houston Johnson V, Ph.D., both professors of history, along with Col. Dave Gray, Ph.D., VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics director, was sponsored by the Olmsted Foundation, an organization that provides cultural immersion opportunities for cadets planning careers in the military. All cadets on this trip are commissioning into the military.

“The mission of the program is to provide future military officers their first significant overseas experience,” Arndt said. “Each year, the trip takes cadets to a non-English speaking country (or countries), and we set up engagement activities that familiarize cadets with the national perspectives of these countries as well as the role of U.S. policy in the region. Over the past five years, we have traveled to Germany, Poland, Israel, Vietnam, and now the Balkans.”

This year’s trip brought cadets to cities including Belgrade, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and Brcko, where they visited museums and historical sites such as the Kalemegdan, the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the Latin Bridge, and the Tunnel of Hope.

The group had a briefing at the U.S. embassy and the NATO headquarters in Sarajevo, which highlighted the challenges of stabilizing the region politically and modernizing the military forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the interest of long-term peace.

Cadets also heard firsthand accounts from locals throughout the trip of their experiences of the Bosnian War and the NATO air campaign against Serbia in the 1990s.

“One of the big goals of the program is to get cadets to meet locals and learn about their cultures and their views and experiences of U.S. interests and influence,” Johnson explained. “On this trip, we achieved this by sharing meals with a Bosnian Muslim family, meeting with three survivors of the Bosnian War, and talking to residents of Belgrade who experienced the 1999 bombing.”

Participants were thankful for the opportunity to engage with other cultures and perspectives.

“I am incredibly grateful for the Olmsted Foundation and their passion toward exposing current and future service members to different cultures,” said Cadet Ethan Hogan ’22. “Through this trip, I was able to learn about the rich history of the Balkans and gain a newfound perspective into life outside the States. I left humbled, optimistic, but most importantly, prepared as an officer to face future challenges that require a higher level of cultural awareness.”

  • Eric Moore VMI Communications & Marketing