TonaLaw is Pleased to Announce Our Scholarship Winner for Spring 2020

Today we are proud to introduce Michael Troise as the winner of our TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship for Spring 2020. TonaLaw awards a $1,000.00 scholarship twice each collegiate year to a veteran of the United States military seeking to further their education for the benefit of others. We want to thank Michael Troise for his service and are honored to encourage his enduring objective of making a difference in the world.

Michael Troise
(Photo: Michael Troise, Afghanistan 2017)

Just before Christmas 2019, we had the privilege of interviewing Michael Troise for this article. Upon hearing the passion in his voice and Michael’s creative motivation to serve others, we had to ask, “Where did you get that from?”   

“I think I always had it, originally I think I got it from my dad who served 25 years in the New York City Police Department. He spent a lot of time away from home, but he was doing it to protect others and I understood that from a young age. I was given alternatives for what I wanted to do, so it all just kind of fit in.”

Michael left his home on Long Island for college at 18 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at 19, which put him into the ROTC until graduation. At the age of 21, he commissioned with Air Force Intelligence, going through their course and graduating. 

“In Air Force Intelligence there’s a typical route and an ‘atypical route,’ which is the one I took. Normally, you would be briefing pilots on what they’ll encounter on missions but I chose different avenues that would let me into a U.S. Air Force Special Operations path. After a phone interview, New Mexico became my duty station for the next 3 years. 

Michael served 7 years as an active duty Air Force intelligence officer and deployed 3 times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Freedom Sentinel, and Special Operations Command-Africa. According to Michael, deployment in Africa and Afghanistan wipes out the picture you always had in your head about third-world and developing nations.  

“You go from the rural areas to what’s considered their ‘major cities’ scattered around the continent, and, you see a true dichotomy. We’d go to a store and see people with bi-lateral amputations ‘walking around’ with sandals on their hands begging for money. Down the street are large homes with wealthy inhabitants. There’s little middle ground and few resources. It was pretty overwhelming. I had already been interested in medicine at that time, but seeing through that lens solidified it for me.” 

While assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command, Michael befriended the unit physician and medics. They knew he wanted to go into medicine and they helped bring him into it. One day, after giving an intelligence briefing Michael was approached by the doctor and a PA. They told him how they realized now that intelligence and medicine are very similar in a lot of ways. Michael had always expected it was going to be a huge career change but now, in fact, it really wasn’t.

“An important commonality with these careers is that you deal with all these disparate pieces of information. There will almost always be chunks missing, but you’re going to just have to put together the pieces you have, analyze them, and try to figure out what’s wrong and what the issues are. Then you make suggestions on, ok, what do we need to do with this? You have to make sure the information is accurate and where you got it from is accurate, and that you’re interpreting it correctly.” 

So how did you come to grips with being so far away from home? For so many that seems to be the hardest part. 

“When I met my wife in my junior year of college I was already committed to the Air Force. Jamieson ‘signed up’ with me. She’s been there the whole time and knows that this is what I like to do and it’s who I am. Military service taught me how to balance work with family life, and to make time for self-reflection and preservation. The nature of my job in AFSOC led my wife and I to the decision that we’d be long-distance for 3 years. We came out the other side closer and stronger than ever.

At the beginning of my 3rd deployment, Jamieson was pregnant, and my commanding officer insisted that I be there for the birth. Our son was born and 4 weeks later I was on a plane to Afghanistan for 3 months. The night before I left home, I got the call that I had been accepted into medical school. By the time landed I knew that I would be going off active duty and attending the Medical University of SC (MUSC) in Charleston!”

After completing the Afghanistan deployment Michael chose to continue his military service alongside his medical training. He was able to switch his focus to stateside humanitarian missions with the Army National Guard and is now a Captain in the Georgia Army National Guard Medical Detachment. He attends a monthly drill with an aviation unit that responded during the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, along with other disasters. 

“I maintain contact with many of the people I served alongside. That network is a strong bond, but it also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by service members and their families. I was recently asked by a civilian whether leadership qualities are inherent or learned, and I replied, “You must be born loving your fellow man and developing relationships, and the rest is learned by example.” 

For Michael, this brotherhood is his motivation for his care of civilians and soldiers. One day, he heard about a motel renovation project by a non-profit that was offering affordable housing options for drug-free homeless veterans wanting to work. Intrigued, he visited the Patriot Villas in North Charleston (a brief 10 miles northwest of the university). Although completion of the project would take another 6 months, Michael was inspired.

“I helped spearhead a ‘work-life program’ between the Medical University of South Carolina and the Charleston Medical VA Center. While the VA provides free care for veterans, it is too often that transportation, work schedules, and disabilities make it difficult to maintain appointments. And so, at Patriot Villas, we bring the care to them, which has been an extremely rewarding experience.”

Michael went through the VA Homeless Social Worker Program, taking with him a group of veterans and medical students going active duty after graduating. They learned how to use social determinants of health to overcome obstacles for homeless veterans during their visiting days. 

“The veteran attendance increased as they began to realize this program would allow their medical records to be updated; and they could work through their disability benefits, and renew their prescriptions — all without having to go out to the VA.”

Many of the homeless reach a point where they don’t trust anyone and they don’t want to be in a shelter — they’d rather live on the streets. Michael understands that you can’t necessarily change them, you can only help them make it through the next season and keep checking on them.

“These days at Patriot Villas there are monthly sessions set up by the tireless volunteer coordinator who took over when I left. She arranges a few outside organizations to come in to help with things such as nutritional guidance; showing the veterans how to spend the same amount on healthier decisions, which seemed enlightening to them.” 

Currently, Michael is attending his ‘clinical years’ at medical school (3rd and 4th) and is training in the hospital. Now in his 3rd year, he is rotating through specialties; so far those have been surgery, family medicine, neurology, and OB-GYN.

“I have several more to go this year; including pediatrics, internal medicine, and psychiatry. During the 4th year of medical school, I will be able to tailor my program to the specialty I ultimately want to go into — which is emergency medicine.”

So Michael, last point — what message would you personally like to share with our country, and the world?

“We all need to remember the Golden Rule and take responsibility for our own words and actions. Jamieson and I are expecting our 2nd son in February 2020, and we will teach them both these concepts daily because it truly requires consistency.

We all need to do better. We dwell so much on political parties, ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, sexual preferences, and anything else that can divide us instead of focusing on what connects us — we are a free people in a free land, made so by men and women who gave their lives to keep it that way. 

Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Better yourself, find your skillset, and take some initiative to do your part to move us in the right direction.”

Congratulations Michael Troise, from all of us at TonaLaw! We so appreciate your taking the time for an interview. Hearing your story first hand was such a meaningful experience and we are grateful to be able to share it with others through this post. Our TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship is awarded each spring and fall semester to a veteran furthering their education toward the service of our nation.