Michael Stoma


Michael Stoma

Education has been good to me.  Twenty-eight years after high school, Vietnam’s war, two kids, and twenty-eight years of marriage to the same person (now divorced), I can say “education has been good to me”.  I did not always have the attitude that continuing education was the “thing” for me, especially in social work.  But, now I find that it may be the only thing for me.

I am the son of an immigrant’s son.  My father comes from a large family (six brothers and sisters) whose values were of hard work and depression era survival.  A veteran of World War II’s heaviest European Theater fighting, survival is what my father did.  After the war, permanently affected by its horror and facing racial discrimination as a dark-skinned foreigner’s son in “red-neck” racist east Texas, he entered the post-war work force as a laborer, an asbestos worker by trade.  By doing so, he, unknowingly, condemned himself to forty years of hard work in the oil and chemical refineries of the U. S. Gulf Coast.  You see, my father has less than a sixth-grade education.  His lack of education and the emotional scars created by economic depression, war and social discrimination left him with little hope for his furthered success.  He saw his success in me, always encouraging me to “get that education”.  And, that I have.

My mother was the daughter of an east Texas dirt farmer.  She is the third borne in a line of seven bothers and sisters.  Losing her thirty-one year old mother to phenomena while she was very young, my mother helped raise her siblings in an era of depression and war.  She was a survivor, too.  She survived five siblings, three spouses.  Her first husband died in an auto accident leaving her with two small children with no government social program support at the time. My mom’s economic situation was such that she gave her oldest daughter to an orphanage because she did not have the money to buy her food and provide her shelter.   But despite my Mom’s losses and the social and economic encumbrances that living in poverty brings, she successfully owned and managed two restaurants in a time when women-owned businesses were novelties at best and nothing taken seriously.  An inspiration to me – to anyone – my Mom had less than an eight-graded education.  She died at age 87 on April 11, 2002.  I was her primary caregiver in her last year of life.  My experience caring for my Mom is a major factor in my desire to help and comfort the terminally ill.

I had not planned for college after high school.  Oddly enough, I was an honor student from the second grade (having failed the first grade) through my freshman high school year.  In my sophomore year, my academic achievement stopped.  I became a mediocre student in a very conscience effort.  I remember thinking to myself, “why am I working so hard and for what?”  Maybe it was the ‘60s movement or immaturity or the inevitability of facing service in Vietnam (almost everyone who graduated high school was being drafted).  Whatever influenced my thinking, the result was a lackluster high school finish.  My only high school “claim to fame” is that I achieved becoming yearbook editor during my senior year.  Therefore, I am captured in perpetuity in the annals of the MacArtaire 1971, Vol. 5 as Editor.

Promptly, after high school graduation, I drew a draft number of thirty-seven and received my notice to report for an induction physical.  Faced with the inevitability of military service and, passionately, not desiring placement as a shooting target in a foxhole or jungle swamp, I joined the United States Air Force (USAF).  It was my military experience that changed my life forever.

Education influenced the small role I played in the “Vietnam Conflict”.  I scored high in all aspects of the USAF entrance and career qualifying exams.  Given my choice of career training, I chose electronics technology because, I thought, it would give me a “skill to fall back on”.  My father often told me, “Ya gotta have a skill to fallback on so that way you can always make a livin’”.  Now, as I look back over my life, that is probably the best advice and guidance that he ever gave me.

I completed training in basic electronics technology and aircraft computer and navigational systems.  After training, I was assigned in support of USAF units that were engaged in the proliferation of death and destruction throughout the Southeast Asian (SEA) countries of Vietnam(s), Cambodia, and Laos.  I served eighteen months in the SEA theatre servicing radar navigational systems aboard America’s Flying Fortresses, the B52 strategic bombers.  Although never in direct combat, I experienced the death and destruction indirectly through the air reconnaissance photos we were shown of post-bomb runs, vaporized villages and other “strategic” targets.  These photos were so explicit and detailed that people (bodies) could be seen before and after an attack.  Also, I experienced combat action through first hand air battlefield accounts of the officers and men who flew on these “birds” of destruction.  Because of my expert knowledge, I regularly performed as a member of mission debriefing teams that debriefed aircraft crewmembers after their completed missions.

It was these experiences that raised questions in my mind regarding the purpose and spirituality of man and the political and moral judgments that governments make in sending their young off to die in a foreign land for purposes and principals that no one can honestly defend.  This self-inquisition led me in the belief that I could make a difference in decisions that affect the whole of American life.  And, the only way I could have effect was through education and action.

Making a longer story shorter, I pursued a formal education through a Master in Business Administration.  I have another thirty or more semester hours in computer science and information systems at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  If you examine my GPA, you won’t find an academic star.  If you examine my personal and professional history, you will find many professional accomplishments and a personal life of evolvement in multiple activities at any given time.  These accomplishments include shaping the technical direction of the US Space Program, influencing the creation of an Exxon company, and co-authoring legislation in the Texas Legislature that will bring economic and social development to a politically neglected area of Houston, Texas.

In pursuit of further formal education through study in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Houston, I hope to give back to others the blessings I’ve received during my short life in this world.  As the world population grows older, it is incumbent on us, the people, to better prepare for talking care of ourselves and our generation.  My goal from this the Master of Social Work program is providing service, support, and guidance to my generation as we reach the end of our existence.


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