What inspired you to apply to the American Service Academies Program?
I first visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in middle school and was surprised, more accurately stunned, by the experience. I remember being amazed that children just like me had endured such a horrific experience. Even at that age and with limited knowledge of the Holocaust, it was apparent to me that one could not gain a comprehensive understanding of its events by studying a textbook or taking a class. When the opportunity arose to apply for the American Service Academies Program, I applied for the breadth of educational and interpersonal experiences it promised.
What surprised you most about the experience? Although I applied to the program for the experience, I underestimated the breadth of the experience in its entirety. I expected considerable academic requirements and the whirlwind tour of D.C., New York City, and Poland. I was not prepared for the rush of emotions brought forth by these experiences, including meetings with individuals profoundly impacted by the Holocaust. I will never forget the scope of reactions displayed by my fellow ASAP participants while visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau: there was disbelief, shock, fear, anger, and deep sadness. It was amazing that a group of individuals with similar training, values, ethics, and career choices could be affected so differently. It led me to understand that we could not only display varying emotions, but also respond in vastly different ways to the same stimulus. It was a foundational experience that impacted my understanding of the importance of instilling core values, particularly integrity, in all military members.
How did the ASAP impact you after you completed the program? Based upon my newfound respect for the core value of integrity, I began to look at my commitment to military service a bit differently. I had sworn to protect my country at any cost, to include making the ultimate sacrifice. What I had not fully considered was that it could and should mean disobeying orders that are detrimental to the values and rights upon which our nation is founded. I no longer identified with the young children who endured this horrific event, but the young officers who were tasked with carrying out such horrific actions. I realized I must continue to develop my personal integrity to prepare for taking a stand for what is right and for enabling Airmen around me to do the same. My experiences in the ASAP are an always-present reminder that military members and society at large must always strive and sacrifice for what is right.
Stefanie Culp graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2009. She attended pilot training in Columbus, Mississippi and then was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord flying the C-17 from 2011-2014. Stefanie is currently stationed at Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst, NJ where she is a C-17 Instructor Pilot and an Operations Group Executive Officer. She lives in Philadelphia, close to her hometown of Chestertown, Maryland.
The Auschwitz Jewish Center is operated by the Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. For additional blog entries by and about the Auschwitz Jewish Center, please visit mjhnyc.org/tag/ajc. All Fall 2015 newsletter articles are found here.