May 8, 2012
As a United States military veteran, Film and Media Arts graduate Montes Carrasquillo has bravely faced many challenges in his life. Returning to the classroom is just the most recent, his experiences in the military informing his approach to his studies and his future.
“I served in the Army National Guard (1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team) from 1998 to 2002 and then from 2006 to present. I drill every month and could be called to active duty at any time,” said Carrasquillo, who became Temple University Ambler’s first Student Media Content Coordinator in Fall 2011. “I was an ‘11 Charlie’ mortar-man; I drove the Stryker vehicles. There were occasions where we took fire and responded to it, but sometimes it was like fighting a ghost — you wouldn’t find the combatants.”
Serving in combat overseas, Carrasquillo said, has a “very big impact on you, consciously and subconsciously.”
“You learn how to follow orders and pay attention to your surroundings, to the smallest details — just through observation you can sometimes tell a civilian or a combatant by what they are wearing,” he said. “Subconsciously, you’re dealing with family issues — you’ll get a letter about a problem back home, but you can’t deal with it at the moment because that distraction could put someone’s life in jeopardy. I volunteered, I knew what I was getting into and I knew there was a possibility I might not come back. I’d think about my daughter — if something happened to me, I wanted to make sure she had the support she needed in place.”
Carrasquillo, 35, of Philadelphia, came to Temple following a one-year tour in Iraq. With an associate’s degree in photography from the Community College of Philadelphia, “I was determined to see what else was available to me, how I could expand on my skills — all of my credits transferred to Temple.”
“When I returned from overseas, the GI Bill allowed me to pay for school and pursue a lifelong interest in film and media. I was very familiar with a camera and setting up a shot, but I had to really learn the motion side of things,” said Carrasquillo, who would go on to create the welcome video for the Temple Veteran Affairs Website. “Temple has created this terrific information network for veterans where you can find out about changes to your benefits; you can discover opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have known about.”
Growing up right around the corner from Temple in Northern Philadelphia, Carrasquillo, of course, was familiar with the university “but I still didn’t know the campus.”
“Temple was always ‘that institution on Broad Street.’ I never thought I’d go there. Once I learned my way around, got established and got to know people, it became like a second home — it was great to be around people who shared my interests and knew what I was talking about,” he said. “When I came to Temple Ambler, it had a totally different feel, but it also felt right. I think coming back as an adult student after my time overseas helps — you have some time to mature and focus on where you want your life to go. I went through a lot of changes in a small amount of time, but I realized I was doing all right and everything would be okay.”
Carrasquillo said when Temple University Ambler established the Ambler Student Media Bureau, a branch of Temple’s TUTV, and he was invited to help build it from the ground up, “I knew this was the perfect thing for me to do.”
“The media bureau is an opportunity to show what I can do and it wasn’t something I was going to pass up. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me and I’ve made a lot of connections,” he said. “It’s a great environment to work in and a great place for filming — I’m even working on a project for Ambler Borough through all of this. It allows me to take the training wheels off, to shoot something and make something out of it; to make some mistakes and learn from them.”
Behind the camera lens, Carrasquillo has become a staple at events and programs at Temple University Ambler throughout the year and his efforts to support the campus, and Temple as a whole, have not gone unrecognized. Carrasquillo was the recipient of several accolades at the Temple University Ambler Student Leadership Awards Ceremony, including Veteran Student Leader and Media Student Leader awards and a Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges Award.
Carrasquillo also immersed himself into the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture while at Ambler.
“I’ll watch programs like Nova and you’ll see the cameramen out there for weeks, months, years in the dirt and muck to get that one perfect shot — something no one has seen before — and I completely understand why they are doing it. Since the campus focuses quite a bit on the environment and green initiatives, while I had some classes left to take I decided to learn more about it,” he said. “I sat down and talked with the department and they helped me make that happen — it’s been a great experience. It’s helped me get back in touch with the present, what is happening right here, right now. This — going green, thinking about the environment — is what is on everyone’s mind; this is what they are talking about.”
While traditional jobs might be a little harder to come by than they once were, Carrasquillo said he is more interested in forging his own path.
“I think I’d like to run my own business as a freelancer; I want to see what is out there. That’s my advice for any veteran returning from overseas — research what it is you want to do and do it because with a good education behind you, nine times out of 10 you’re going to have a better chance to increase your standard of living,” he said. “For veterans, the funding is there. After being in a combat zone, it’s certainly not the hardest thing you’ll face. It’s been great to come home and have this opportunity to further my education and there is so much help available to help you reach your goals — take advantage of it before it’s gone.”