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June 29, 2023

Green to Gold: Training the next generation of Army leaders

by Mark Johnson

Officers are needed to lead enlisted servicemembers in the U.S. military and the U.S. Army. The Green to Gold Program, including the program at Michigan State University, fills that need while giving soldiers the chance to earn a degree and later earn a commission as an Army officer.

“The Army is always looking to produce officers for their ranks,” said Robert Sullivan, recruiting operations officer in the MSU Department of Military Science. “The Green to Gold program is one of the ways they can do it.”

Soldiers join the Army as enlisted personnel and, in certain cases, they can advance and become officers during the course of their military careers. Otherwise, officers are produced through the Green to Gold program, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) completion or attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Since Sullivan arrived at MSU in 2015, five cadets have completed the Green to Gold program and have become officers and leaders in the Army. Two cadets are currently in the program, including Zac Caufman. One of the cadets who completed the program is now enlisted in U.S. Army Aviation.

Green to Gold is a program designed for active-duty soldiers who have been in the military for about five to 10 years and who have earned an associate degree or completed at least two years at a college or university. The Green to Gold Scholarship program gives active duty soldiers the chance to complete their bachelor’s degree or their first graduate degree and earn commission as an Army officer. It offers scholarships for two, three and four years, depending on the number of years of college the soldier has already completed.

“It’s a way to incentivize students to pay for school. It’s a recruiting tool,” Sullivan said. “You’re going from being the worker bee to the project manager. There are more responsibilities.”

Training to make change
Caufman joined the program in hopes of bringing change to the ranks of soldiers and for the retirement benefits he would earn as an officer to support himself and his family.

Before joining Green to Gold, Caufman had served in the Army for about 11 years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. He joined in 2011 and was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany from 2013-16 working as a signals intelligence analyst. He worked again as a signals intelligence analyst from 2016-18 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2017, Caufman deployed to provide humanitarian aid in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma.

Caufman then sought a career change within the Army, leading him to Fort Huachuca in Arizona where he trained to become a military intelligence systems maintainer and integrator. The job is comparable to an IT professional, he said, as the role involved keeping intelligence equipment, like computers and networks, in top working condition, while also extracting data from communication devices.

Once he graduated from his training, Caufman deployed to South Korea, becoming a staff sergeant leading the Intelligence Electronics Warfare shop, where he worked as a shop foreman and oversaw roughly 30 soldiers, five Department of the Army civilians and 12 contractors. He earned a Meritorious Service Medal through his work and leadership.

It was while he was in South Korea that he learned about the Green to Gold program. He met MSU alumni who were in the ROTC program who encouraged him to complete the program at MSU. After completing the paperwork, he was accepted into the program and came to MSU and started in June 2022.

During his time in the Army and working with enlisted soldiers, he saw soldiers in the officer corps making decisions that affect the lower-ranking soldiers without considering them. Caufman wants to see that changed.

“Something might sound great on paper, but if you think about how it affects the enlisted soldier, they don’t take that into account,” he said. “At the end of the day, the enlisted soldiers are the backbone of the Army, and they make things happen."

Caufman already has an associate degree, so his Green to Gold program will run for two years.

Cadets attend ROTC classes, and they are assigned different leadership roles and responsibilities, Sullivan said. Through the program, cadets hone their leadership skills, complete assigned work, and do everything from oral practicums to completing operations briefs.

Between their junior and senior year, ROTC students go to Fort Knox in Kentucky for advanced camp, which serves as their culminating event. During the event, Sullivan said cadets are given a challenge to complete within 24 hours. They additionally complete fitness tests, navigational tests and other training and tests. In total, the advanced camp runs about 35 days, with cadets returning to MSU for their final year focusing on their futures and deciding what they want to do in the Army.

Caufman is going to Fort Knox for his advanced training July 15 through August 18 with most third-year cadets. Once he completes the program, Caufman wants to return to service in the Army, hopefully working in military intelligence as an officer where he can leverage his leadership role to implement the change he has been working toward.

Learn more about the Army’s Green to Gold program at