Middlebury students and alumni have a long-standing tradition of serving their countries and the world, at home and abroad.

NGOs, the military, government, nonprofits, and more: All play a role in how Middlebury has fulfilled its mission in preparing students to lead engaged, consequential, and creative lives, contribute to their communities, and address the world’s most challenging problems.

In Wired for Service Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton writes about the myriad ways Middlebury students and alumni continue to engage in an enduring tradition: Giving back to others.

Here, the Middlebury Serves site highlights in particular the contributions and impact that alumni and students have made and continue to make through their military service. Currently, more than 1,200 alumni from across the Middlebury institution are veterans or in active service, from the Korean War to the War in Afghanistan to undergraduate ROTC cadets.


Stories of Service

  • “The biggest takeaway from my time at Middlebury was becoming proficient at synthesizing lots of information into a single idea, as that is a critical skill to have as an Army officer.”

    Alec Wilson ’21

    Read more about Alec
  • “Middlebury taught me how to think critically, how to synthesize information, and problem solve. Thanks to these invaluable skills, I’ve excelled in these roles just as much as my peers with engineering degrees or commercial mariner backgrounds.”

    Cathryn Hunt ’15

    Read more about Cathryn
  • My Middlebury education … taught me the importance of learning from different experiences and using that knowledge to make better decisions in the future. This was especially useful in the military, as I often had to make important decisions quickly and in difficult circumstances.”

    Chigozie Ogwuegbu-Stephens ’02

    Read more about Chigozie
  • “I saw my time [at Middlebury] as the ultimate reward freedom can give a person. We were taught to think for ourselves, be free to learn, adventure, and be creative in a safe and comfortable environment. These freedoms, in my opinion, were worth protecting.”

    Carrie Decato Ayers ’99

    Read more about Carrie
  • “From combat and strategic competition to humanitarian assistance, and all the staff work in between, military service offers new and diverse chances to contribute every day, and true satisfaction when a mission is accomplished.”

    Tony Garofano ’04

    Read more about Tony
  • “Middlebury teaches you to think critically, creatively, and independently. The military teaches you how to harness those capacities with discipline, hard work, and toughness.”

    Conor Simons ’16

    Read more about Conor
  • “My interests that grew during my time at MIIS, coupled with the discipline and dedication I learned while in the military, propel me every day in my role and my ambitions.”

    Kayla Lightfoot MPA ’22

    Read more about Kayla

On National Service

A panel of Middlebury students and alumni gathered virtually for a Veterans Day Zoom discussion titled “A Conversation about National Service.” In the following audio clips from the event, the panelists—an ROTC cadet and several active-duty and retired military personnel—talked about careers in national service, including the military and national security. The discussion was moderated by Kate Bailey French ’93 and hosted by Midd Vets Give Back.

View the entire program on Vimeo

- Hey everyone, I am Conor. I graduated Middlebury not so long ago in 2016, where I majored in philosophy. I was not actually a ROTC cadet. I graduated Middlebury and then went off to basic training and then off to Officer Candidate School before commissioning as an intelligence officer down in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I served four years in the Army, most of them in Monterey, California, out at the Defense Language Institute where I served as associate dean of the Arabic Language School. I recently left the Army to attend Harvard Law School, where I now am in my second year. And I have kept ties to Vermont, though. Last summer I worked at the Federal Public Defender’s Office up in Burlington.

- What did you learn or did you learn in your service that helped you when you came back into civilian life?

- I’ve only been out for about a year and a half. But in my first year of law school, I thought what was most valuable to me from the Middlebury was two things: discipline and perspective. And that’s what I find in our community of veterans here at Harvard, is that we, I think generally have the discipline to buckle down and do the work when we need to do it, but also the perspective to know that we’re not getting shot at, there are other things that are important too. And this experience in law school, but then in life more generally, is just what you make of it.

- How did your Middlebury experience prepare you for your service to your country?

- It was an interdisciplinary approach and an appreciation for all types of diversity, especially cultural diversity, like Chris and Callie said. I think where it was most practically useful for me was as working at my Arabic Language School in a leadership position over faculty that were mostly civilians and mostly native Arabic speakers. The cultural/national linguistic breakdowns were so many, like too many to wrap my mind around, but I think mitigating disputes between faculty and keeping the schoolhouse running smoothly, Middlebury, especially in appreciation for cultural diversity, that’s what’s helped me.

- I’m commissioning in the spring. I’m a senior at Middlebury, I’m head of the current ROTC program. Going to be commissioning into the reserves to start off so I can go to graduate school and one day I’d like to work in the JAG Corps for the Army if I can. And yeah, I’ve been working with Jim a little bit on connecting ROTC with Midd Vets Give Back. And happy to be here, so thank you.

- What motivated you to get involved with National Service?

- I’m also first generation military. Both my grandfathers did serve in the military when they were young and they didn’t talk about it as much, but something that always did come from my family was the idea of service. So many members in my family have served, and for the public good, for lack of a better word, for so long that like that’s just the idea that I was raised up in was trying to give back for all the fortune you’ve been given in life. And I happen to be in a circumstance where I’ve just been given so much by the people who came before me that I felt like I hadn’t earned just sitting on my like laurels, I guess. And so I’m really excited to have the opportunity to do something that I feel like I could do well and could be useful for giving back to our society.

- My name is Stephen Bissainthe, Middlebury, Class of ‘18. I am currently a field artillery officer stationed down here at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Currently, I am the aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Andrew Preston, who is the field artillery commandant. And, yeah, I have completed one rotation to Korea, got back to the States a little less than a year ago and getting ready to go to Captain’s Career Course and leave Oklahoma, fortunately, after almost four years of living here and to continue my career.

- What motivated you to get involved with national service?

- So I’m a first generation military so I didn’t really rely on, like, a history of service in my family to compel me to join, but I will say I’m also first generation American. My dad is a Haitian immigrant, which is why my last name is so hard to pronounce. But I’ve always just kind of admired his deep appreciation for, like, coming to this country and reaping the benefits of such. And I was kind of wanted to, like, I acknowledged the adversity my father went through and I kind of wanted to challenge myself in a similar way so I saw public service as a good way of doing that.

- How did your Middlebury experience prepare you for your service to your country?

- Leadership, especially at the company level is very much interdisciplinary. Just like the conversations you’ll have with soldiers or airmen, sailors be able to draw upon, like, a sociological foundation to supplement those conversations is huge. And something I don’t think I would’ve got if I had attended a school that wasn’t liberally arts focused. So I definitely appreciate Middlebury for that.

- What advice would you offer to students about national service, including military service?

- I think a lot of my peers might be deterred from, like, national service because of maybe, like, salary or, like, impact but I think service is, like, perspective changing. I think leaving, ‘cause I grew up in Boston area, so leaving Massachusetts, of course I went to college in Vermont so leaving New England and coming out to Oklahoma has totally changed my perspective. I’ve learned to learn from other people more effectively, communicate more effectively, whereas if I’d stayed in Boston, I would’ve missed out on that. So I think just in terms of changing your perspective, like, public service is invaluable.

- My name is Chris Harnisch. As Kate mentioned, I’m Class of 2006. I’m an officer in the Army Reserve today and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. I also served in a civilian capacity as the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department for Counterterrorism. I was also a director at the National Security Council for some time. And my first job out of college was actually at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. So I’ve really had the privilege of serving alongside public servants in a range of different capacities.

- What motivated you to get involved with national service?

- For me, like, I was a senior on 9/11 so I knew right after, I knew when I graduated that I wanted to… I should say, before I even graduated, when I was in high school, as a senior in high school in 9/11, I knew that I wanted to serve the country. I knew I wanted to go to a college where I could study the Middle East and study Arabic. And Middlebury obviously had a great Arabic program, the language program. So at that point, I wasn’t sure what type of capacity I would serve in but I knew after 9/11 that I wanted to roommate at Middlebury College. He, himself was a great patriot and served in the Marine Corps. He lost his brother in 2006 in Iraq, he was hit by an IED. And I flew out to Nevada for the funeral for that, for his brother’s funeral, for memorial service. And it was on the flight back when it really kind of had that epiphany that, “Hey, there was an able-bodied, young American, he went to Williams College, could have been doing a lot with his life, and he decided to serve his country in uniform and gave his life to the country.” For me, it was really that moment when I decided that I was gonna be signing up for the Army when I got back.

- How did your Middlebury experience prepare you for your service to your country?

- I think for me it was probably the fact that Middlebury is such a global-oriented college. You know, there’s a wrong… You know, if you’re all learning other languages, learning about other cultures, you know, whether you’re doing that in Middlebury itself or you’re doing that abroad, there was always such a global kind of approach and take everything we were doing at Middlebury. I think that really helped me as an officer in the Army, just understanding… I mean, obviously, the military is a globally-oriented institution so understanding… Coming to serving as an officer who had that understanding of other cultures, other languages, of, you know, geopolitics and the histories of different countries and cultures, I think that certainly is what served me, you know, in the greatest way when I was, you know, from my experience at Middlebury in the military.

- So what advice would you offer to students about national service, including military service?

- I would just say really quickly, I would tell them, “You’re not gonna regret it. I think that you would only regret it if you don’t serve.” If you’re thinking about it, you’d only regret it if you don’t do it. I’ve never met somebody in my career, whether it’d be in the military or the time I spent as a civilian working in other national security roles, I’ve never met anybody who says they really wish they didn’t do this. Now there’s a long line of reasons, for like very tangible skills that you get from military service that are all well worth it. But I think when it comes down to it, I think my single piece of advice would be, “You’re not gonna regret doing it.”

- My name is Callie Bullion I’m Midd Class of 2014. I am currently a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. I commissioned through ROTC. We have Green Mountain Battalion just like all the awesome cadets and recent grads that we have here on the call. I currently live in the panhandle of Florida, down near Pensacola, but I drill out of Charlottesville, Virginia. I have deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently returned from my second tour of duty to Afghanistan in July.

- What did you learn or did you learn in your service that helped you when you came back into civilian life?

- Yeah, so, as a reservist, I have a full-time civilian job. I work in national service as a civilian contractor as well, alongside my military service. And the biggest thing that I’ve really taken away is how to communicate effectively and how to work with a team. As an officer, I’ve worked with, you know, 18-year-olds fresh out of high school, this is their first assignment, all the way through people who have been in the Army for 20 years. So, it’s about learning what your own strengths are, talking to people, getting to know them, learning their strengths, especially in the reserves because everyone comes from so many different backgrounds, so many different walks of life. Just because they don’t have that military experience necessarily, they may have something in their civilian life ‘cause that helps the mission or whatever working off the time. And then, translate now to civilian world. it’s very similar. You never know what kind of backgrounds they’re going to have on the team you’re working with. So being able to work with and learn from a really diverse group of people and integrate those skills and those strengths to making a stronger team is probably one of the biggest things that I’ve learned and carried throughout my entire career.

- Well, how did your Middlebury experience prepare you for your service to your country?

- Middlebury has such a diverse student body. We have people from all over the world who come to study at Middlebury, so between conversations in the classroom, chats around, you know, the dining hall table, chats in the dorm rooms, you get to learn about so many different people and get that human aspect. I had a couple of classmates who were from Afghanistan, so before I ever joined the military, before I ever stepped in Afghanistan, I had this, you know, very strong appreciation for the people and the culture of Afghanistan. And I think Middlebury does a great job of bringing together people from all over the world and giving us these opportunities to have a dialogue and find those commonalities and really have, you know, fantastic conversations and connections.

- Good afternoon all. Conor Stewart Class of ‘09. I’m an active duty infantry major in the United States Marine Corps. I am currently in Monterey, California, finishing up an MBA program at the Naval Post Graduate School. And here in December I’ll be moving back to the National Capital Region to work at Headquarters Marine Corps in an acquisitions capacity for a couple years.

- What motivated you to get involved with National Service?

- I guess 9/11 definitely had an impact on a freshman in high school. At the high school that I went to, it was an all boys school and we had a military component where we marched, we did the parades. So that really got me interested in the first place. And then the Middlebury connection, my grandfather was Class of 1951. He went to Middlebury on the GI Bill after serving as a Seabee in World War II. So I had that connection as a legacy being at Middlebury. And I really wanted to do something to give back at the National Service and specifically with the military. So after graduating in ‘09, I ended up going to the Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps down in Quantico in January 2011 and commissioned March 2011. So yeah, both 9/11, but then also family history that connected directly to why I was able to go to Middlebury.

- How did your Middlebury experience prepare you for your service to your country?

- I mean, for me, it’s the background and the baseline of the liberal arts with the interdisciplinary approach to complex problems. Being a history major at Middlebury but taking religious studies and economics and oceanography and giving that broad width as well as getting deep into those subjects and understanding that none of those subjects will just give you the answer by themself. And you have to reach across. So whether that was seeing issues coming up in Afghanistan where, yeah, we’re patrolling, doing everything, but also trying to stand up local governments and work out cultural and travel issues to any of the other deployments I’ve been on. It’s always been that interdisciplinary approach, and that’s something that I think is very much appreciated within the service. And that’s just really helped me out a lot.