Michael Cicchese's calling to defend America's freedom came when he was finishing his undergraduate studies in resource and managerial economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Instead of going to work, he accepted a commission with the U.S. Marine Corps.
"Serving my country was something that I always wanted to do," said Cicchese, 26, a S. Weymouth, Mass., native who completed four years of active duty. "I come from a very patriotic family, and the sense of pride that patriotism instills is rewarding."
He began training at camps in Virginia, Oklahoma and North Carolina before being deployed to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The largest of the 34 Afghanistan provinces, the Helmand Province is known as a tumultuous Taliban stronghold.
Serving as an operation assessments officer from November 2010 to August 2011, he developed and led the Second Marine Division's assessment team in measuring combat forces to alleviate enemy action. He produced data points that assisted his division's commanding general and staff to formulate future combat strategies across 12 key districts in Helmand.
"When you serve overseas, you appreciate everything your country has to offer," Cicchese said. "It's really a great feeling knowing that you're serving America with other people who are stepping away from their families and making sacrifices."
When he was assigned from September 2011 to February 2012, he served in a much different role. As assistant logistics officer of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regime, he supervised the embarkation of a Battalion's worth of equipment – approximately 45 million units – via rail, ground and air.
On his most recent assignment in 2012, as company commander of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regime, he managed more than 200 Marines and executed critical missions. He also supervised the maintenance and functionality of his Battalion's gear, including howitzers, M-4 rifles, cryptology gear, radio sets and more than 80 military-grade vehicles.
When his service contract ended in August 2012, Cicchese knew it was time to return to the classroom. He did so in September 2012 with the support of the G.I. Bill and Student Veterans of America (SVA), a nonprofit aimed at providing military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education. Following graduation, he enrolled in Northeastern University's Master of Business Administration and Project Management programs.
"I chose to attend Northeastern because of its strong academic programs, as well as its supportive SVA organization," said Cicchese, who expects to graduate in 2014. He hopes to pursue a management-type job in the Boston area after graduating. "It was a fast transition from Afghanistan to civilian life, but the SVA allowed me to network with other veterans, which opened up doors for me."