Student cadet hopes to climb ladder of success
Chris Buys is a father of two, a husband and an active-duty staff sergeant who in 2014 transitioned into a student cadet majoring in criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown and will graduate in May.
Buys got the chance to become a student at UH when he applied in 2013 to the Army’s Green to Gold program, a two-year program that allows soldiers to obtain a bachelor’s degree or a two-year graduate degree and earn commission as an officer, according to GoArmy.com
Every year, the Army selects about 150 individuals from over 1,000 applicants to participate in its Green to Gold Active Duty Option program. Staff Sgt. Buys applied to the program hoping to become one of the selected few who are granted permission to temporarily leave active duty to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
“I was on recruiting orders in Houston and had started my degree at UH-Downtown,” Buys said. “I realized that the best way to stay in Houston and finish my degree would be the Green to Gold program.”
Upon graduating, Buys will immediately commission as an officer.
While enlisted, Staff Sgt. Buys’ military occupational specialty was in 31B or, as it’s known in the civilian world, being a military police officer.
“I was always drawn to law enforcement,” Buys said. “I like to be at that critical moment when people need you the most, and you have a chance to affect somebody’s life in a positive way.”
Buys, originally from Pomona, California outside of Los Angeles, joined the Army exactly one year after 9/11.
He said the attacks played a role in his decision to enlist, but Buys also acknowledged he didn’t see many prospects for himself growing up in a low-income household in California.
“I didn’t grow up in the shiny part of L.A., I grew up in the part you see on COPS,” Buys said. “There are not a lot of opportunities to be successful without substantial resources.”
Although college was a consideration, Buys did not want to rack up student debt and understood that he would not be able to become a police officer at 18. He went over his options and realized that the most influential people in his life had at one point been in the military.
The two people who had the greatest impact in his life were his grandfather, a Korean War veteran in the Navy, and his best friend’s dad, who was in the Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, in Vietnam.
He also realized that the other veterans he knew, after reflection, were never disappointed with their time in the service.
With that in mind, Buys went to work. After reaching out to several branches, Buys decided the Army was the best choice for him because it would allow him to pick a specific job that suited his interests.
Buys built up an impressive resume during his first 10 years in the Army, which made him an ideal candidate for the Green to Gold program.
In addition to obtaining the rank of staff sergeant, Buys continuously maxed out his score on the Army physical fitness test, qualified as an expert in marksmanship, scored highly on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and was always rated “among the best” in his performance reviews.
He got the news that he was accepted into the program in early 2014 and started his junior year at UH-Downtown in Fall 2014.
One of the requirements of Green to Gold is the candidate must enroll in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at his or her school. UH-Downtown, as well as most other Houston area universities, falls under UH-Main Campus’s ROTC program.
When Buys joined the UH-Main ROTC program, the organization received a cadet with a unique asset – prior military service.
The ROTC is almost entirely cadet-run, so having a veteran like Buys is a commodity. During organizational drills and day-to-day operations, the other cadets use Buys as a resource.
“He’s seen how the real active-duty units operate, and he transfers his knowledge to the other cadets,” computer engineering senior Cadet Quynh Dinh said. “The things that we do wrong as cadets he is able to fix and educate us on what we should do differently.”
Although he did not actively seek the position, Buys has become a mentor to the rest of the cadets in his battalion.
“When we’re doing training, I try to seek his advice to ask him how to apply this in an actual scenario,” computer engineering sophomore Cadet Cristian Guzman said.
The cadre recognizes Buys’ wisdom and supports his efforts to help train the other members.
“He has a vast amount of experience as a non-commissioned officer in the Army,” assistant professor of military science and ROTC Capt. Gerardo Rodriguez said. “He has used these skills to mentor our cadets and assist the cadre in all of the tasks assigned to the program.”
Despite Buys’ prior service and insight, he follows the same standards that are placed on the other cadets, Guzman said.
Buys said he doesn’t expect any preferential treatment.
“I’ve been around the Army long enough to know how it works,” Buys said. “In the Army, we take training very seriously, and ROTC is training me to be an officer.”
For the first two years of ROTC, a cadet does not have any obligation to the Army, according to GoArmy.com. If a cadet chooses to continue in the program, he or she must pick between active duty, National Guard or the Army Reserve. Ultimately, the cadet’s fate is based upon how he or she stacks up against other cadets.
Fortunately for Buys, he has excelled and is ranked in the top 10 percent at UH and 10 percent in the nation.
Once he earns his rank as second lieutenant, Buys said that he hopes he will be able to go back to a military police unit, this time as a commissioned officer.
Since Buys is ranked high nationally, he believes that he will be allowed to choose his next duty station and plans to stay in Texas.
“My wife is from Houston, so we’d like to stay close,” Buys said. “We have talked and believe that Fort Hood would be best.”
If Fort Hood does not work out, Buys said his next option would be Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
“What is better than living in Hawaii?” Buys said. “I’d get to work in a place where people pay to go for vacation.”