A summer in Madagascar

Laconia's Sean Cashman visits east African island nation as part of ROTC training


LACONIA – Unlike many college kids who return home to hold a summer job, Sean Cashman began his summer break with lemurs, history lessons and artillery units in the heart of Madagascar.

As an ROTC student at Pennsylvania State University, Cashman was presented with the opportunity to apply for the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program offered through the U.S. Army. To be accepted into this competitive program, cadets need to show high scores on the physical training test, a high GPA, and be ranked high on the Order of Merit List, which is based off his rank in his college’s ROTC program and any other distinctions noted from other past programs.

Cashman was notified in November that of the 25 students from Penn State that applied to the program, he was one of only five students accepted. Following his acceptance into the program, he was notified he would be spending three weeks in Madagascar, where he would spend time learning about another culture through immersion, military to military exchange, volunteer service and educational programs.

“Once I was accepted, I got a packet with information and had to start learning all about Madagascar by studying the history, language and culture,” said Cashman.

Although Cashman’s studies extended to the culture of all of Madagascar, he focused many of his studies on the capital, Antananarivo, which was where he was stationed during his time abroad. During his studies, he became aware that there are often high levels of theft and corruption in the capital, and that the nation is highly impoverished. However, his studies only took him so far, as the real lessons learned came when his plane touched down.

His team of 27 ROTC members from around the country arrived in Africa May 15 after a four-day briefing at an Army base in Kentucky. Once settled in, the group was split into three teams that each had one active duty member leading the group. This team became the core group that Cashman spent his three weeks working and training with, and as a result many of the fellow cadets have become some of his close friends.

Each day Cashman was given the opportunity to view the nation from a different perspective. Some experiences that affected him mostl included his time working in the schools teaching American Sports and doing volunteer work in the villages. While working alongside the locals, he helped with farming with reforestation groups. He also had the opportunity to work in an orphanage where they did a beautification project.

From the experiences in the villages, Cashman said that was truly struck by the high level of poverty that plagues the nation.

“I learned that 90 percent of people in Madagascar live on just $1.50 a day, yet they would still welcome us into their houses and give us food or anything we needed,” said Cashman. He further went on to note that the closeness of the communities was heartwarming, as you do not often see this in the United States.

Cashman also had the opportunity to work with the Army of Madagascar, where he had the chance to collaborate on military training. During his two-day field training exercise with the army, he noted that there were many differences in the level of technology and tactical resources available. For example, Cashman was surprised that the army in Madagascar still uses high frequency radios in trees, whereas the United States uses satellites. Laughing, he also said that the army over there was not as attentive to time as the U.S. Army is. However, despite the differences he was pleased that everyone was eager to learn from each other and work together.

“It was a humbling experience because it helped me see the way other people live and helped me get out of the United States 'bubble,'” said Cashman, adding that the program hopes to train the next generation of military officers to see the world through a broad and accepting lens. 

Following his return to the United States two weeks ago, the team went to Kentucky to debrief on their experience. During this time, all cadets were required to record information about Madagascar that may be important for the U. S. government and provide an account of their personal experience throughout the deployment. 

Currently, Cashman, a member of the Laconia High School class of 2015, is hoping to eventually pursue a career in aviation or military intelligence, and is set to graduate from Penn State in 2019 as a 2nd lieutenant. Due to his positive experience with the CULP program, he now hopes to leave the work abroad for the military and learn about other cultures. He is headed to West Point next week for further military training.

“I learned so much during this experience, I would definitely do it again another time if I could,” said Cashman. “I hope that anyone thinking of joining ROTC does, because it offers great opportunities and opens your eyes to what the world has to offer.”

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Sean Cashman started off the summer with a month in Madagascar, where he volunteered to do farming and reforestation projects, even getting to meet a lemur up close. The Penn State student will spend time at West Point next week for more military training with the ROTC. (Courtesy photos)06 27 Sean Cashman flag 06 27 Sean Cashman villagers 2

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Cashman attends an ROTC class during his stay in Madagascar. (Courtesy photo)