Editor’s Note: I asked noted author, former foster youth and miltary veteran Capri Cruz if she could sitdown with an up and coming talent in foster care named Dr. Jamie Schwandt. Dr. Schwandt is a Speaker, former foster youth and current active military.
I thought the two could talk about Jamie’s time and care, as well as the benefits and disadvantages of a life in the military. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Capri: I’m so excited to interview you. I was talking to Chris who is the publisher of Foster Focus magazine and I’m honored that he asked me to interview you because we’re both military: I’m prior military and you’re currently in the military. He thought it would be right neat for us to chitchat with one another about what’s going on in the military and how we can use the military as a platform to advance and help foster children if they want to go in that career field; how they can use it as a platform for them to move on in life. So before we get to how the military can be used by and with foster children to advance their life, because it helped me and maybe it’s helped you because you have tremendous success and we’re going to talk about that because the military is a primary agent of that (success) and it was for me too.
Prior to us getting to that I want to talk about who Jamie Schwandt is and why am I interviewing you today? Who are you Jamie?
Jamie: Well, I have quite a few different roles. I am a Captain in the United States Army reserves, and as you mentioned I am an Army reserve soldier but I’m one of the few that have gone active on reserve, so I’m active-duty working for the reserves. It’s kind of confusing when talking to people but I am an Army reserve soldier but it’s my full-time job. I’m in a transition phase right now. I’m moving from Washington, DC to Kansas with my family. I’m also an author. I wrote and published Succeeding as a Foster Child back in October, and I’ll talk about my book here in a while. I’m also a motivational speaker for foster children, foster parents, foster professionals, and really anyone who will listen to me.
And I have a beautiful family that I’m moving from Washington, DC to Kansas. We’re from Kansas and were very excited to be moving back. My beautiful wife Tommi Schwandt. We welcomed a new born baby girl into the world in October, Katherine Schwandt, and of course I can’t forget my two well behaved dogs. But I’m a strategic planner and Captain in the Army. I work out of two locations currently. I work out of the Washington, DC area: Fort Belvore, Virginia area and the Pentagon. I’ve been in the Army reserves for 16 years and I have 9 active duty years so I have 11 more to go to get to the retirement that you just received a few years ago Capri.
And I love every minute of it. You mentioned the military was instrumental to your success and the military is my success. It’s so instrumental to it and later on I want to get into how the foster care system prepared me for life in the military. But again I wrote a book based on research I did in my doctrine program at Kansas State University, the greatest university in the world, Go Wild Cats! And I did my research on the foster care system. I wanted to find out how a foster child can succeed when all the statistics show that they will fail. So I found 15 former foster children who were enrolled in a college program. It could’ve been a vocational school, a four-year program, a community college, a two-year program, whatever, but they had to meet certain criteria and I ended up coming up with 10 themes. I used those 10 themes as a foundation for my book, “Succeeding as a Foster Child: A Roadmap to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Success”, and I believe that’s the reason you’re talking to me Capri. I know that was a mouthful.
Capri: Yesssssss, oh my gosh I completely understand why Chris put us together for this interview. We have a lot in common even more than just the military, like our PhDs…Is yours qualitative or quantitative?
Jamie: Definitely qualitative. I’m not a numbers guy.
Capri: Right, right. And that’s the best anyway when you want to talk to people. And I did qualitative also. I narrowed my data down to three themes. You had ten themes. So we have a lot in common and it’s so exciting to speak with you today. It’s an honor. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Jamie: No, thank you.
Capri: Yes, that was a mouthful. You’re amazing. You’re absolutely amazing. So since it is a lot to go over, let’s put it into some themes. Since we have a basis of who you are I want to talk a little bit about your upbringing. Let’s build up into the foster care system, then we can move from foster care into the military and how that transition went for you. And then, what you know about the military and how it can help foster children either career wise, personality wise, or developmental wise. And then we’ll definitely talk about your book and the amazing projects you’re working on. And oh my gosh, you’re in the middle of moving homes, back to Kansas, so there’s lots to talk about today. I’m very, very excited.
Okay, so let’s start with your upbringing. Do you mind? What would you like us to know about how Jamie either ended up in for the care, transitioned out of foster care, and your experiences in for foster care. Tell us a little bit about those things.
Jamie: Yeah, I’ll start with my life before foster care and as you mentioned my upbringing. I have a younger brother and we were placed in foster care together and our lives before foster care, we truly grew up in a life that was destined for failure. Our parents were severely depressed. They were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and they made poor decisions, one after another.
I’ll share with you some stories about the horrible situations our mother put us in. A lot of them are trailer stories, so hopefully people reading the magazine won’t get offended by me using trailer stories. I just grew up and had a lack of bad experiences in them. But I remember one specific story pretty clearly. I was in between 8 and 10 years of age and my mother brought me and my younger brother to a trailer in a small town in Kansas. It’s a great community but we didn’t participate in the greatness of the community. And our mother brought us to this trailer and we had never been to this specific trailer before and it was very dirty and I remember walking in and I remember seeing people sitting in the living room. I recognized maybe a couple of my mother’s drug buddies and they were injecting themselves with needles, doing all sorts of horrible stuff. I remember walking into the bathroom of this trailer and it was difficult to walk around because there were needles on the floor.
I remember another story my relatives told me about when I was in my early 20’s. My parents were living in another trailer in a small town, north west or north central Kansas, it was literally out in the middle of nowhere, that’s what I love by the way, I’m a small-town guy, the opposite of you Capri.
Capri: (chuckles) Yeah.
Jamie: But this small town, literally 70 miles from the nearest Walmart, out in the middle of nowhere, and my parents were living in a trailer outside of my great grandparents farm and, uh, the trailer was raided for drugs as my parents were in this trailer doing drugs and all sorts of horrible stuff, and I was probably the same age, at that time, as what my infant child is now, 4-5 months or 4-6 months of age.
Capri: Oh my.
Jamie: So the trailer was raided when I was an infant child. And I remember some other stories. I was joking with my wife a couple months ago and mentioned my brother and I would dig through landfills to find toys to play with when we were little kids. I thought it was kind of funny and I still kind of do but it made my wife want to cry.
My mother constantly putting us in bad situations and when most people… what they remember about their parents, I hope they remember good, loving stories, family vacations, their parents developing their children. What I remember about my mother is her drunk and drugged up body trying to dress herself in a bathtub, while I’m a little child trying to pull her out of the bath tub. I remember her doing drugs in the kitchen with her drug buddies, while I’m in the living room of a small trailer playing video games and that was normal.
I remember her being passed out in the bathroom puking all over the place and me being a little child walking in and seeing that. That’s what I remember about my mother.
My father, what I remember about my father is he’s a difficult man to talk to you about because I truly believe he wanted to be a good man, he just couldn’t. He couldn’t when the battle with those demons in his mind and he actually did commit suicide when I was 18 years old. He attempted suicide as a young man in the Navy before I was born and his mother committed suicide. So suicide ran very deep in our family and I really attribute his down fall in life to that first suicide attempt, it left him with a plate in his head, he suffered from seizures, and he lived on a constant welfare check so he had a whole bunch of time to do a bunch of nothing and a bunch of horrible stuff.
Capri: Hmmm, Right.
Jamie: and so that was kind of my upbringing. And my brother and I were placed into foster care when I was in the 8th grade and I believe the year was 1995.
Capri: So you had seen a lot. You saw more than anybody should ever see in their lifetime by the time you were 14.
Jamie: I’m sure there are kids out there that have seen a lot worse but yeah, like I mentioned, we grew up in a life that was truly destined for failure.
Capri: So 8th grade you go into foster care. Is that right?
Jamie: Yeah, it was Halloween night 1995. My brother and I were out doing all sort of horrible stuff and when we came home our father was drunk and we got into a fight. It was one of those situations where the cops were called. My brother and I knew we couldn’t stay there. We had a feeling that it just wasn’t right. We knew our father had a drug stash so we told the cops where it was at and the next thing you know we were placed into foster care.
Capri: Wow, and I hear that a lot. I hear from alumni, especially the guys, I did some interviews and usually the guys take it upon themselves to call the police, to call social services, or to run away. There’s a common theme there. I don’t know so much with women. I really haven’t paid attention, but definitely with the guys: you guys take the bull by the horns. You see the situation, not speaking for all guys, you can recognize this is an unhealthy situation and I got to get out here. That’s what I’ve seen overall with guys who end up in foster care. They kind of take matters into their own hands because they can recognize “this is not the place I need to be, I got to get out here”. I haven’t really paid attention with the women but I’ve definitely seen that pattern with the guys. And that’s what you did with your brother. So you told the police and what happened? What did they do? Did they take you right then?
Jamie: Well, we actually went to my grandparents for a while, just a couple days. We had lived with them before, then we were placed in foster care. And I’m probably one of the few people that will actually tell you that I had an awesome experience in foster care. Foster care saved my life. I truly believe that. I truly attribute my success in life to the great people that I was placed in foster care with, the great communities, the great foster families. I even dedicated my book to one of the foster families I lived with. If used right, the foster care system is an opportunity for success. It truly is but most people don’t use the word opportunity and foster care in the same sentence but if you think about it, they’re taking a horrible situation, a horrible life where they’re abused and neglected and they’re (foster children) put in, hopefully, with a loving family where they can break the cycle and achieve success. And that’s the difference between my brother and myself. We bounced back and forth between our foster families, our grandparents and our biological parents but I stayed closer to my foster parents and he stayed closer to my biological family and I broke the cycle and he was thrown right back into the cycle. He’s addicted to the same (inaudible) as my parents: drugs, alcohol, depression, he’s in and out of prison, and I really think there’s something there about him staying closer to our family and him not being able to break the cycle and where I broke the cycle and found loving families that truly cared about my development, so I’m a very positive and forward thinking person but I truly attribute a lot of my success in life to the great people in for the foster care system where I was at.
Capri: Well, that’s really amazing and I can kind of relate. I had about nine foster parents and one of them was so outstanding for me that she (the foster mother) positively affected me throughout my whole life no matter where I was, with or without her, in or out of contact, so I can definitely relate. When a foster child gets that great home, just a loving adaptive home it really can make all the difference in the world in someone’s life. I can completely understand and I’m so happy that you got that experience. I completely understand because my brother did not so I can relate to your brother’s experience.
Jamie: And that’s why I use that key phrase “if used right” because I know a lot of kids don’t come out of foster care with a positive experience, but you have to wonder, I mean, I don’t know the exact number but if nine times out of 10…that foster family has got to be better than what you came out of. There is a reason you were taken out of that home. So that’s why I always wonder if…
Foster care could be such a great tool if used right like it was with me and you, it sounds like.
Capri: Well, one out of nine for me. (Laughs) That was my ratio. One out of nine. But let me ask you this, so what do you think about, is it better in your opinion, and I get that you can only speak from your experience but if you can think out further than just your personal experience, do you think that there are any benefits for a foster child to maintain communication and a continuous relationship with their biological family if their biological family is unhealthy? Or is it worse to stay in communication with them even though you’re in foster care or is it worse not to have any relationship with your biological family?
Jamie: Well, that’s a difficult one because I’m very biased. I love the foster care system and my foster parents and I see what happened to my brother when he went back closer to my biological family. It depends on the level of abuse the child had, like me, I wasn’t physically or sexually abused, just verbally and emotionally and what I had personally witnessed. When I interviewed those 15 former foster children for my doctoral study, some of those kids were severely abused sexually, physically, severely abused. I think there’s something to be said that obviously if you’re significantly abused, I would almost argue that but I have no statistical research to back that up, but I would argue that you need to almost have a clean cut away from your parents.
Capri: Right, for your own safety.
Jamie: But with me, I stayed in contact with my parents. I still love my mother and my father. It took me a long time to truly embrace that I just need to leave them be. My mother and my brother, I still communicate with them every once in a while. Whenever they need advice I’m there to provide it for them. I will never completely turn them away. I will never provide for them any financial assistance. I will be there for moral and spiritual support and that’s it. I think what helped me was that I kind of pushed them away, removed myself from them to find success and now that I’ve kind of found success I’ve reconnected just a little bit but just for that moral and spiritual advice hoping that something will provide a change for them but I will never have that relationship like I have with my foster family, with my current family. So that’s a very difficult question, one that I probably cannot answer.
Capri: You said that in the 8th grade you were put into foster care. So tell us a little bit about your experience. How long were you in foster care, how many foster homes were you in, and tell us a little bit about your transitioning out of foster care.
Jamie: Well, I actually lived with four different families and I still don’t understand my situation, what all happened. I was placed into foster care and then put back with my biological family. Then I was bounced back-and-forth between families, my parents, and my grandparents. But I’m not even sure if I was placed back into foster care when I lived with other people. I think there was an arrangement made between social workers, families and my parents because I would always bounce back to live with other families but they weren’t necessarily foster families, I don’t think. So it’s difficult to talk about it, so what I’ll say is I had four different foster families but I didn’t technically exit foster care system, so I didn’t exit when I was 18 but I still lived with other people. So it’s very difficult to….
I still don’t understand it myself. It’s very difficult for me to figure out what even happened to me because like I said I don’t know if I was technically back in the foster care system. I was in the system, taken out, and put back in, but I don’t know when I technically exited the foster care system? Does that make any sense?
Capri: It does and it is very important for the audience to hear, whether they hear it over this verbal interview or read it in print, it’s really important that civilians, well, I guess they’re all civilians (laughs), but non-foster care affiliated folks that they understand that sometimes foster children leave the system and don’t really know what happened. And you’re saying you don’t even know when you left (the system) or how that process even occurred or if you were in foster care in some of these homes or if you were not in foster care, so my goodness on top of the experiences you had with your biological family, viewing all the drug related activity, the trailer activity, and it’s not so much that it’s a trailer, it’s the environment, the environment were all that happened and then you go into foster care, and you don’t even know when exactly you were in or not in foster care or out of foster care, you just know you were moving from home to home. That’s significant. And for you to come out and be so well developed at age 33 now. That significant for the audience to really understand, that there’s a part of your life that you don’t even know what was really going on there.
Jamie: There were some really good families though and I have to attribute that to some of those families. But, you know when you asked me the question, there’s something in foster care that I kind of wanted to share. It’s called the foster care stigma. I don’t know how much you’ve talked about it before, there’s a stigma where in foster care you feel like you’re embarrassed about being a foster child. You feel like people look at you like a failure and you feel like you will fail and statistics show that you probably will. But there’s this stigma and I remember when I entered foster care, it was during 8th grade and it was basketball season, and I remember basketball practice. A fellow teammate came up to me and he asked me why did we move to this town. I remember I was so embarrassed about being a foster child, I don’t even know what I said but I know I lied. I did not tell him that I was a foster child because of the stigma. And this is something when I talk about my message for foster children, I have a specific message for foster children and I would love to share that with you later, but there’s a specific message, it’s Dream Big, Think Positive, and Take Action. And I tell kids that they have to find a way to use this stigma to their advantage. They need to “turn defeat into a stepping stone for opportunity”. I tell the kids that “we all possess the same ability to either succeed or fail” and “being a foster child and failure are not synonymous”. And that’s what I give in my message of Dream Big, Think Positive, and Take Action. And what we really need to do with foster children is tap into this stigma, we need to tap in and really find this aggression. Foster children are pissed off, they’re upset, they’re angry and that’s not a bad thing. If you take a truly successful (inaudible) in the world, they’re pissed off about something and that motivates them. I tell these foster children to use it as fuel for their fire and not as a crutch for their failure. I tell them to embrace it, use it to rise above, to prove people wrong. Frank Sinatra has a great quote, “The best revenge is massive success”. And I tell them to use all their negative situations to their advantage, use it as motivation, and I use these (ideals) to this day to write a book, to obtain a doctoral degree, I use it as a platform to tell my story to help and inspire people, so this stigma that is out there of foster children failing, we as former foster children really need to embrace this and use it as a motivational technique to improve the lives of foster children.
That’s my high horse there.
Capri: I completely agree with you. So now, if we can get them to the place where you and I are at where we can build…. I think you’re onto something phenomenal there, absolutely. Tell us, what’s the name of your book?
Jamie: Succeeding as a Foster Child: A Roadmap to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Success and it is just that. It’s a handbook for foster children, a roadmap and guide, almost like a how-to manual for a foster child to achieve success. It’s a very practical and short book that any child should be able to pick up and read.
Capri: And where can people go to get that book because foster parents can get it for their foster children, foster children can get it (for themselves), and siblings can get it for one another, extended family members, teachers can gift it to the foster children, so where can people get it for foster children?
Jamie: They can either get it off of my website www.jamieschwandt.com Or they can go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to purchase the book.
Capri: Foster children, from my experience, have so much going on (to deal with) before they can even focus on how to transform their feelings of failure, the low self-esteem, and all this kind thing, before they can even change their mindset about what failure is and how they can use it. So let’s go a little deeper, you as a young man, were you insecure in foster care, were you awkward, or were you confident? What kind of personality did you have as a young man until the time you graduated high school?
Jamie: I would say I was insecure. I was confident to a point, I was angry but I didn’t have a positive thinking attitude at that time, which foster children, if they could develop a positive thinking attitude, it would be awesome. When I talk to foster children now I tell them a great quote by Buddha, and yes, I’m a Christian but Buddha said “We are what we think about most” and that’s because thoughts become things. When I talk to foster children I tell them, because it’s so true, that the biggest battle in their life will not take place against their athletic competitors, or their peers or arch nemesis, but the biggest battle of their life will take place in their mind. And I don’t know if I mentioned this before: When they look in the mirror they see two different people. We all see two different people. We see our best friend and our worst enemy. So if the foster child can develop that positive thinking approach using techniques like visualization and a vision board, which I read about in two awesome books (1) Success Principles by Jack Canfield and (2) The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane….but there are so many ways that if we can coach our foster children to think positive and not to dwell on the negatives, again very easy to talk about and maybe difficult to do, I think that would’ve helped me as a young child. I wouldn’t have had to realize all this on my own later in life. If I could’ve been instructed on how to do this, it could’ve saved me some years.
Capri: That’s really great you said that because I was just telling somebody the other day that we’re not really taught how to think, not only foster children but in general. In this country often times we’re not taught how to critically think and we need to teach for the children, especially foster children how to think critically. How to think about consequences, think about plans of action, think things out. And if you don’t know how to think and you don’t know the right questions to ask before you make decisions, my gosh it could be the difference between a great life and a horrible life, so I completely agree with you.
So let me ask you this, from your experience and outside of your doctoral work, have you talk to a whole lot of foster children?
Jamie: Yes, that’s one of my jobs when I’m not “being all that I can be”, there’s an old Army motto for you…
Capri: (Laughs) Right.
Jamie: My Army job is my Clark Kent job so my foster care work is my Superman job.
I travel the county and speak to different groups of people, and my most favorite people to speak to are foster children, so in the last few months, I’ve probably spoken to a couple hundred of them, former and current, so that’s something I get to do regularly, is to speak to foster children.
Capri: What are you hearing them say? What are they saying to you? Are they talking about mental health issues? Are they talking about being overly prescribed medicine? What are they talking about?
Jamie: That’s funny that you bring it up because I was just down at the University of Texas, the School of Social Work, and I talked to 54 current and former foster children, I believe, and I spoke to them for a couple hours actually, and it was really awesome. And I think the only reason I was able to get through to them is because I was able to use words like we, us, and our, but prescriptions were one of the complaints. They thought they were being overly medicated. They thought if they had a problem people didn’t want to hear them out and they would be prescribed drugs and medication. A lot of times you can’t blame the people prescribing them because what else can you do? If you can’t get through to them, what options do you have? But one of their huge complaints was about being overly medicated. It was their largest complaint. Another complaint, and trust me they had a lot of them, but they didn’t feel that people listened to them or trusted them so (in return) they couldn’t trust other people, specifically foster families, child protective services, and stuff like that. It’s like that stigma I was talking about, they didn’t feel that people trusted them or believe that they could succeed. But there was some really smart kids there. That group, I went there to motivate them and they motivated me.
Capri: Isn’t that the truth. I have the same experience when I go speak to foster children down in Macon, GA. They (the Independent Living Program) bring foster children from all over Georgia, and these kids are so bright. They knock me off my feet. Most of them know what they want to do with their life, they know what their gift is. They’re very insightful. I say, “Man, when I was your age I just wanted to get out of the town I was living in (laughs) and join the Navy”. I didn’t know anything. Very, very bright young people. I don’t know, this wave of kids these days, I’m definitely shocked. Do you find that you’re shocked at how bright these kids are these days?
Jamie: Yeah, I think all generations have some very bright kids. I definitely don’t think I was that bright when I was that age. Yeah, I would say…
Capri: I definitely wasn’t. I didn’t know what my calling was. These foster children are sharp. From my experience and from what you’re saying, man, if we tap into that and help them, because they already have most of it going on. These foster children just need some direction, some love, and some guidance. But most of them that I come across, and it sounds like the ones you do too, are in tuned to a lot of things. These are smart kids. They’re very smart kids.
Jamie: What inspired me is how many of them wanted to choose a career field that they could help somebody. A lot of them wanted to get into therapy, social work, and a lot of them wanted to change the flaws in the system, which is very inspiring. They wanted to help, which is so great. I think if you’re working in the foster care system and you have experience as a foster child, just like with anything, if you’re working in the judicial system, you have to be an expert in that system. You have to be able to relate to people. And if you’re a foster kid, why not have the same thing? What a perfect job for our foster care alumni. It’s not for everyone but if they can grow up in the system and see the flaws and be able to relate to the next generation, why not work in that field and give back to them. And I was inspired by how many of them wanted to do that. A beautiful young lady there wanted to write a book on foster care and I was so inspired by that. They are great kids. There’s just a communication gap sometimes between child protective services and foster children, and between foster families, social workers, and the foster children. There’s a communication gap. But if the right questions are asked and the correct trust is built, I think that would correct most of the communication issues.
Capri: Well thank you for that insight because that’s very clear guidance. There’s no way to misunderstand that. If there’s proper communication with the proper people and trust is built, a lot of good things can happen. So thank you for that.
You were talking about opportunities for the foster children and I definitely want to hit a couple of more things with you. You’re just so full of wisdom and experience, and I’m so super proud of you because you’re only 33 years old and you already have your Doctorate in Education so you’re a Dr., you’re an officer in the Army Reserves on active duty, you’re a dad, you’re very articulate and smart obviously or you wouldn’t be an officer or have your doctorate degree. There is just so much to you. You’re a public speaker and you’ve written books, so as you’re talking about foster children also having opportunities, you’ve obviously seen opportunities and taken advantage of many of them, so for foster children how do you see the military as being an opportunity for them that they can take advantage of?
Jamie: I see so many opportunities in the military for foster children. And every time I talk to a foster child I remind them and preface it by saying, “I’m not a recruiter” but the military is perfect: the discipline, the structure, etc. and I’ll share with you: Everything I needed to know as a soldier I learned itin foster care and I’ll share with you five things that truly made me a successful soldier that I learned in foster care.
Capri: Absolutely! That sounds great.
Jamie: The 1st thing is, and I mentioned this earlier, “being comfortable with the uncomfortable”. Members of the armed forces have no choice but to live by this principle. Serving our great country, whether fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or the current ISIS crisis, or training in the desert or training in the mountains, or simply moving your family across the country or to another country, service members are trained to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, however I did not learn this skill in the military. I learned this skill prior to the military, moving from city to city and moving from family to family. My wife made a comment, since we’re currently moving from DC to Kansas, that this is the sixth move in eight years. And I joke because I moved more than 20 times between all the foster families, my grandparents and my biological parents and that prepared me for easy transition in the military. As a foster child, I learned the key words like “adapt and persist” and to “recover”, or “being in the care of strangers” and “unfamiliar environment”, those are military terms. I learned how to take challenges head on by being a foster child.
Resiliency. I mentioned that foster children and military members are some of the most resilient people in the world. And as a foster child being raised around drugs and alcohol, I witnessed my parents crippling depression. I wasn’t even 10 years old but I remember pulling my mother’s drunk and drugged up body out of the bathtub trying to commit suicide. One of my best friends was killed in action in Afghanistan. He was a helicopter pilot: CW2 Brian Nichols, just a wonderful, wonderful human being, but being in foster care and seeing death, the death of my father, my mother’s suicide attempt, seeing all this horrible stuff but it almost prepared me for seeing horrible stuff in the military. And I guess that’s one of the bad things of foster care but it helped me to understand what was actually happening. One of the things that was horrible to go through at the time, but I was grateful later at the time when I was a Commander in the Army, I had the privilege to command over 200 of the finest soldiers that you will see in the United States Army, but it’s unfortunate some of them grow up in horrible lives. I have soldiers who grow up in foster care, I have soldiers who were abused, neglected, and living in poverty, they joined the Army and the Army Reserve for opportunity, just as we mentioned, but I was able to relate to them. I had soldiers who woke up in the middle of the night doing stupid stuff and getting into trouble, and unfortunately soldiers attempting and committing suicide but the soldiers who would attempt suicide I was able to relate with and talk to them. I was empathetic, compassionate. I could tell them “I been to your dark places”, so I could relate to them, which was very powerful.
Leadership was the third thing that I learned as a foster child. And leadership goes hand in hand with the military. If you think about it, so many foster children are left to be the leader of the household before foster care. They’re raising their siblings. Half of the time they’re raising their parents. I learned the valuable skills of leadership in foster care and not just by those horrible experiences but by the great people of the foster care system: the foster families, the teachers, the coaches, the social workers, everyone in my community. My inspirational football coaches, I have to give a shout out to Mr. Bruce Van Loenen and Mr. Mike Lecher, I have not forgotten their leadership skills, so I learned the valuable skills of leadership even before I joined the military.
And believe it or not, another skill I learned was family. And it’s hard to believe that I would learn to embrace the importance of family being a young angry foster child, seeing all these horrible decisions my family made, but learning that family is not just those who simply share your DNA; it’s those who care about your safety and your personal development and they genuinely love you. Again my foster family who I dedicated my book to, Mr. and Mrs. Bob and Sharon Bearley, the role models of role models, the compassion and empathy. They didn’t show pity, they showed empathy, which is so important. They didn’t look down on me. They didn’t feel sorry for me. They were empathetic and compassionate. I learned those awesome qualities by being in foster families who truly loved and cared for me and my development.
And the last thing is self-control. I learned self-control and patience by being in foster care. It’s a long time for those to sink in and they’re still sinking in, I guess but as a youth, I was angry, I lacked discipline, I lacked structure, I was desperately seeking my parent’s attention. I played way too many video games and I drank way too many sodas when I lived with my family, but when I was brought into foster care those are some of the qualities they tried so hard to teach me: self-control, patience, and discipline. And if you haven’t learned those skills or know about those skills when you join the military, you will be forced to learn self-control and patience, with the “hurry up and wait” in the military.
But these five skills that I learned in the military: being comfortable with the uncomfortable, resiliency, leadership, family, and self-control, they helped me make a smooth transition into the military. And I highly encourage foster children to give the military a look. In foster care, there are so many educational opportunities that I highly encourage them to use. Most states have a tuition waiver to get their college paid for, there’s an education (training? Inaudible) voucher, which is a federal program to get your education benefits. You should be able to leave foster care with so many education benefits to obtain a college degree and you can do the same thing in the United States military. You can get your bachelors degree in the military. There’s so many education benefits you can receive. And one of the things I loved about the military is that it didn’t matter what my background was, it didn’t matter where I grew up or my parents educational background was because there definitely wasn’t one. I had the same opportunities that everyone else who joined the military had. I still have those same opportunities that people who grew up and went to Ivy League schools: we are the same, my peers are Captains in the military. It doesn’t matter if we went to a small Kansas school or if they went to Harvard. We have the same paygrade, we have the same everything. So the opportunities you have in the military, you just don’t find them in other places. It’s just such an awesome organization. The Army, the Army Reserve, every branch of the military, just an awesome place and I highly encourage foster children to give it a very hard look.
Capri: I absolutely agree with you. Man, you said some great stuff. I was just having a conversation with somebody about the first time I experienced being discriminated against as a woman has recently happened. Because being in the military for 20 years, as you said everyone is on an equal playing field. All your peers have the same opportunities and the same struggles, the same regiment. Equal Opportunity in the military is a high priority. And the first time I feel discriminated against as a woman was this year and I don’t like it. I didn’t even actually realize I was being discriminated against until I started really analyzing my experience, and I was telling my brother I’m not handling this well. (Chuckles). This has made me upset. And so I left the organization that I felt I was being discriminated against in and my brother brought to my attention that it’s because I’ve been in the military where equal opportunity is demanded. If you’re not practicing equal opportunity in the military, you won’t last long. So you’re absolutely right, no one will ever know in the military that were a foster child. When you go in, you are a recruit just like everyone else and it’s not until about two years later that you achieve any distinguishing designations about yourself, like when you leave A-school or C-school and sometimes not even then. So no one is going to know or care that you were a foster child.
So, absolutely. I’m glad you brought that up. Everybody that goes into the military has the same opportunities and everyone is a recruit when you go into the military. That’s it. You’re not a foster child anymore.
Jamie: One thing I forgot to mention is that I actually joined when I was 17 years old and I went to basic training between my junior and senior year in high school. It’s called a split off program in the Army Reserve. And I spent the first six years in the military as an enlisted soldier. I’m very proud of that. I was a Staff Sergeant before I became an officer in the military. I have so much respect for our enlisted soldiers and our senior enlisted in the military are some of the greatest people and leaders that you’ll ever meet.
Capri: Absolutely, absolutely. Well thank you for sharing that. Did the military pay for all your degrees?
Jamie: They paid for my bachelors and masters but not the doctorate.
Capri: So as we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to talk about that I have not asked you about yet? Is there anything you want your audience to know about you, your projects coming up, how they can sponsor you to be a speaker for their television shows, their audiences, for foster children or their businesses? I’m sure as a speaker you don’t just speak to foster children. You’re an officer in the United States military and you command higher audiences.
Jamie: I’ve spoken to different Chamber of Commerce; I’ve spoken to organizations for donors, I’m getting ready to go speak to the leadership department of an academic institution, anyone who will listen to me, I will speak and share a message of overcoming obstacles. I will share my story, and I will present leadership presentations as well. They can go to my website www.jamieschwandt.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m writing another book, which should be out in the fall of 2015. It’s a children’s book. It’s going to be about a little boy named Jamie and his journey through foster care, so it should be a pretty powerful book.
Capri: So many opportunities. Well, I’m going to go get your book. I wrote my own book for foster children but I want to read your book. I’m super excited because it’s all about different ideas and that synergy. Your ideas with my ideas, and someone else’s ideas with the foster child’s ideas, this is how a new day is created for people. So thank you Dr. Schwandt.
Jamie: Thank you.
Capri: Ok, it was a pleasure talking to you.