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Boise State MBA graduate parachutes into trees and serves on the frontlines

Boise State graduate Major Mike Smolucha and his wife, Joy, in a row boat at Lago Di Braes in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy.

Major Mike Smolucha is a combat engineer in the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) in Vicenza, Italy, and a graduate of Boise State’s Master of Business Administration program.

For as long as he can remember he has always been interested in the military. At a young age, he was influenced by his maternal grandfather, John Valenta. Born in Slovakia, his grandfather gained his U.S. citizenship through military service in World War II.

“I remember my grandfather’s collection of medals and his military burial – ’Taps,’ 21-gun salute, the folding of the flag, which was presented to my uncle. It was really moving,” he said. ”It is something I will never forget.”

Smolucha attended North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, Georgia, as a cadet in the ROTC program. In his senior year, he had a bout with cancer (Smolucha won) and missed a semester. He took 21 credit hours his last semester in order to graduate in four years. He received his bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Educational benefits from military service

Smolucha’s experiences during college and in the summers included airborne school, completing the Sapper Leader Course (28-day training for combat engineers in aspects of mobility, counter mobility, and survival), shooting at Fort Benning with the Army Marksmanship unit, running the Bataan Death March marathon in New Mexico, training with West Pointers, and shadowing an aviation unit in Honduras for a month.

Mike Smolucha and his dog, Winston, on a walk at Lago Di Braes in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy.

Smolucha’s recruitment contract included funds to pay for graduate school, which is what brought him and his wife, Joy, to Idaho and Boise State.

“Basically, I had a free degree and the ability to pick where I wanted to go. Because of our love of the outdoors – mountains, hiking, hunting, fishing – we explored schools in Idaho and Montana. My wife and I were drawn to Idaho. It was a perfect fit for us. And, I can’t believe how good the food is in Boise,” Smolucha said.

He chose to pursue an MBA because of the opportunities it will offer.

“My MBA has helped a lot with the things I do for the military. I love the outdoors, but look at me – I’m in an office doing PowerPoints.”

Paratrooper and combat engineer experiences

Jumping out of planes shaped Smolucha’s army career. In North Carolina, he was a “rough terrain jumper” (a jumper who parachutes into trees). He served as a company commander and paratrooper in Alaska, and also as an observer, coach, and trainer for paratroopers at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana. He is a senior-rated jumpmaster with 58 jumps under his belt.

As a combat engineer in Afghanistan, Smolucha and his team did route clearance – searching for and destroying improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs.

One of Smolucha’s favorite experiences during his service was the multinational training he did in Anchorage, Alaska.

“We had Japanese paratroopers come and conduct live-fire ranges with us. They don’t get to do that in their home country to the level they can with us in Alaska. To work with them and see how excited they were and the praise they would give us – I was pretty happy to help them out with their training,” he said.

Smolucha offered some advice for students who are veterans or currently serving in the military:

“Make the most out of your time in school. Learn the academics but as important, gain those relationships and experiences that you can only get in a diverse group in college that you might not have in your military jobs. Relationships with and ideas from fellow students not in the military and not jaded by military structure and rankings are extremely valuable.”

-by Allison Wilde