23 March 2012

A Soldier's Education

Tom Velasco Puertollano,  Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 2012 valedictorian,  is a simple man with simple dreams.
But his efforts to remain obscure and ordinary are now futile because his excellence in the academe always makes him stand out from the rest.
Initially, Tom just wanted to finish college, land a decent job, and provide a comfortable life for his family in Lipa, Batangas.  He says he didn’t even want to get rich, believing that the haves seem to have more problems than the have nots.

The third in a brood of four children, Tom didn’t have to work while studying despite coming from a poor family. His father, a carpenter and his mother who sold vegetables and food, managed to make both ends meet and send their children through school through hard work.
In return, Tom made his parents proud all the time by being a consistent honor student from grade school all the way to college. He also managed to get a scholarship from the SM Foundation.
It is not surprising then that at the PMA, Tom did not gun for the top spot in his class. Contented with being second or first honor from his sophomore days all the way to senior year, he says he just made sure that in everything he did, he always gave his best.
“We were taught to strive for excellence in everything that we do, regardless if you would receive an award for it or not,” says the 21-year-old Second Army Lieutenant.
Ever since Tom learned about the PMA and its benefits, training, and holistic education, he had never stopped aspiring to enter the institution. However, after graduating from the Fernando Air Base National High School in Lipa, Tom did not qualify because he was underage.
Even when he was already pursuing Engineering studies at the Batangas State University as a scholar, Tom had the PMA in his mind.  Finally, he decided to enter the Academy and with a heavy heart, let go of his scholarship.
The moment Tom entered the PMA, there was no turning back for him. The demands of academics coupled with rigorous physical training challenged him all the more to survive day one up to his last day at the military institution. In fact, he says he even enjoyed the training!
“Dapat marunong kang balansehin yung physical training at academics. But the big challenge is how to adapt from a civilian to a military life. Pag pasok ko pa lang, inalis ko na sa isip ko ang mag give-up. Malaki ang sinakripisyo ko, yung scholarship ko para dito kaya desidido talaga akong tapusin ang edukasyon ko dito hanggang sa huli,” reveals the topnotcher of the 186-strong BAGWIS (Bagong Kawal na may Iisang Lakas) class.
Tom's secret is in his diligence and determination to study even when he was already tired from a whole day of school and training. During the allotted study period from 7 to 10 p.m., Tom would spend the time reviewing for his lessons or completing assignments and projects. His favorite subjects are Math, Physics and Philosophy. He would also give tutorials to his mistahs to help them with their lessons.
One of the best things about being in the Academy, he says, is the support a cadet gets not only from his mistahs but also from upper classmen.
"Hindi mahirap mag kadete. Masaya, napakaraming opportunities para sa iyo lalo na yung pagkakataon maging leader at pagsilbihan ang bayan. Kahit malayo ka sa pamilya mo, hindi ka nag-iisa kasi andiyan ang mga upper classmen at officers na handang tumulong sayo sa academics or physical training. `Yun ang magpapalakas lalo ng loob mo, yung suportang binibigay nila,” he points out.
Tom honed his combative skills through judo and boxing. He also indulged in other sports like basketball, swimming, badminton and chess. Whenever he has free time, Tom relaxes by reading books, playing the guitar, or watching movies with his mistahs.
Tom is a member of the Honor Committee, a cadet organization that is in charge of disciplining and developing the character of cadets, as well as implementing the rules of the Academy. They work in collaboration with the Cadet Conduct Policy Board.
As a member, he helps strengthen the cadets’ understanding of the Honor Code which states that "We, the cadets do not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate among us those who do.”
He also helps try violators and give judgment on cases.
Everyone, however, is tasked to look after each other and report any violation that may have been committed by fellow cadets. This, Tom notes, makes all of them more disciplined and responsible for their own actions.
"Dahil dito walang cheating o dayaan sa Academy. Walang matigas ang ulo o nagagalit pag naisusumbong sila sa Honor Committee. Bukod sa training, bugbog rin kami sa character development dito kaya naniniwala akong maisasagawa namin nang maayos at marangal ang trabaho namin bilang sundalo," he stresses.
During the graduation rites last Sunday, President Benigno Aquino III challenged cadets to follow the right path and shun temptations that may come their way. Tom agrees with the President that more than the physical dangers and risks that come with the job, it is the temptation or test of character that is the most difficult challenge that they may encounter.
But with the training and character formation that they have received from the Academy, Tom is confident that they will be able to successfully hurdle any trial.
Less than a week after his graduation, Tom is already looking forward to serve his countrymen through the Army. He feels that being a foot soldier is the best way to reach out and serve the people in far-flung communities.
“Apart from being a good combat soldier, I want to be an effective peace builder and a partner in nation building. Gusto ko rin maging platoon leader at mai-share sa unit ko yung lessons na natutunan ko. Sana maibahagi rin nila ito sa mas nakararaming tao. Sa ganon, mas lumalaki yung sphere of influence at mas malaking improvement ang magagawa namin. Gusto ko maging sundalo na sinusuportahan ng tao, hindi yung kinatatakutan nila. Gusto ko maramdaman nila na kami ang kanilang kakampi at tagapagtanggol,” ends Tom.




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