Atlanta-born Second Lieutenant Paul Spiegl ’19 is stationed in Fort Brenning, Ga., where he began his active duty training a month ago. He left behind him at the University more than just a legacy as an ROTC company commander, a Whitman College RCA, and a concentrator in the Near Eastern Studies department; his brothers, twins cadet Sterling Spiegl ’21 and cadet Staff Sergeant Jarrett Spiegl ’21, are both members of the University’s ROTC program. Sterling is pursuing a concentration in civil and environmental engineering. Jarrett is an economics concentrator.
DP: Paul, tell me a bit about your childhood. Was there something that made you interested in military matters or military service from a young age?
Paul Spiegl: My family went to public school in Atlanta. For a long time, schools like Princeton weren't even on my radar. The only other two people who have come to Princeton from my high school are my two brothers. And it was just our mom growing up. So the idea of giving back and serving others wasn’t just a concept for us; it was real. We had people who gave back, who really mentored us. They believed in us.
That aspect of giving back was something we always wanted to do and something our mom kind of emphasized. She’s a prime example of service in our eyes. She worked multiple jobs to help pay for things and get by in high school. And she also emphasized a strong education.
I was either going to do ROTC or go to an Academy, and once I got into Princeton, I couldn’t turn it down. I wanted a college experience. At Princeton, I could do the whole military thing and someone else can do something totally different: working for nonprofits, consulting, banking and what-not. I really like getting like diverse perspectives about things and you know, as a Southern Georgia guy, meeting people from around the world was pretty cool.
DP: Sterling and Jarrett, tell me a bit about your childhood. Was there something that made you interested in military matters or military service from a young age?
Sterling Spiegl: I didn’t really think about military service until I got to high school. Paul was in JROTC, and told me not to do it because it wasn’t good from a GPA standpoint. I’d never really thought about it until Paul applied to college. And Jarrett and I had a youth group leader named Dave our freshman year of high school. He went to West Point, graduated in ’06, then went to Harvard Business School and was an Army Ranger and everything like that. It was never that he pushed military service. It was more that I thought it would be awesome to be someone like Dave, who’s humble, smart, hardworking, driven, and all-around what you would like to be as a person.
Jarrett Spiegl: I’m kind of the same. I didn't think about ROTC or a Service Academy until high school. I figured I'd give it a try and applied, got the scholarship, and kind of tested it out, and now I'm still here. I enjoy it. I think it's exciting.
DP: Paul, You arrived on campus in the fall of 2015 as an ROTC cadet. What was your day-to-day life like, and how did ROTC affect your Princeton experience?
Paul: It’s similar to what they have now in terms of schedule.
DP: Sterling and Jarrett, you both arrived on campus in the fall of 2017 as an ROTC cadet. What are your day-to-day lives like, and how does ROTC affect your Princeton experience?
SS: There’s obviously PT [Physical Training] Monday, Wednesday, Friday, MS [Military Science] class on Thursdays now, and then lab Friday evenings. What really takes a chunk of time out isn’t PT, but that you have to also do PT on your own. That's what really complicates things from a time standpoint. I didn't come in very physically fit, so I have been making up ground over the last two years. And [Jarrett and I] were both injured at the same time. We had a similar experience where we both have leg injuries and can't do leg things. That was really something I was glad that he was there for, because it’s obviously a hard thing to go through.
JS: I like to think that ROTC has kind of lengthened my Princeton experience. We’re up early and we stay up late. We just have more time that we're awake and doing things.
SS: I think ROTC also gives you more of a goal. If you're just a random student here, you don't necessarily need a great GPA. You can get a job with a 3.2 or a 2.9, or whatever it is you think you can end up with. But if you're in Army ROTC, your GPA directly translates into whether or not you’re going to go to the branch you want when you active duty or guard. You don’t need a good GPA for the purpose of having a good GPA, you need a good GPA so you can do what you would like to in the army.
DP: What do you think is different about your three ROTC experiences? What do you think is similar?
SS: The program was a lot smaller when I entered. When you get older, the more people there are, the more challenges there are. Because of the adjustment, the first year is definitely the hardest year, and suddenly the majority of the program is first-years.
JS: I think because Paul’s year is smaller and our year is almost double the size, we had more competition and more camaraderie. There’s more people kind of embracing the suck together. That’s added to our experience.
SS: The whole cadre changed in between when Paul was here when we started coming here. We have a new battalion commander, we have a master sergeant, and we have a new major. I think every single person has changed. We get their whole take on the program.
Also, Paul went to Fort Knox for 31 days when he was a cadet. We'll go for 45 days this summer. We’ll have additional training, and additional things are that the Army is emphasizing because of that. Paul’s year didn’t get to shoot as much, but we’ll probably shoot twice over the course of the year.
DP: Paul, you earned a degree in Near Eastern studies — how did your studies inform your experience as a cadet and officer?
PS: NES is an interdisciplinary department. They make sure that you take classes on literature, history, ancient history, diasporic communities, etc. I took classes on jihadism, on Muslims in France, political economy in the Middle East, Sufism, the history of Jerusalem. I got to have a deep, holistic understanding of a lot of things, and one of them was Arabic.
I had a lot of friends who would help me with Arabic — it got to a really high level, like a grad seminar based on Arabic texts my senior year that was very challenging. But I really learned to love Arabic. And people say to learn the language of enemies; the U.S. government deems it a critical language with financial incentives for learning it. But for me, it was just something I really loved.
I was able to have really interesting conversations with people that didn’t have anything to do with the military and didn’t necessarily agree with me about it. And we weren’t just talking about hot button issues all the time, but just having really meaningful conversations.
Now, in my training, there’s a lot of international student officers here with me. We have students, soldiers from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. In my group there’s a Peshmerga [Kurdish] captain. There are people from all of the world, and I’ve been able to talk with them, practice my Arabic, and learn from their perspective. That’s all because of NES.
DP: Sterling, you’re earning a degree in civil and environmental engineering — how do your studies inform your experience as a cadet?
SS: I think, as an engineer, there’s a lot of problem solving I get to use. But other than that, I think for me academics and Army are very independent.
DP: Jarrett, you’re earning a degree in economics — how do your studies inform your experience as a cadet?
JS: With economics, a high percentage of the weight of your classes is on the midterm and final. You have that pressure to perform. I think that’s big as an officer — you have the same pressure to perform.
DP: Paul, can you tell me about your service and career since graduation?
PS: I’ve been active duty for about a month, stationed here at Fort Benning. They’ll tell me where I’m moving next in a couple weeks. I have about a year here training. It’s been nice to be closer to home. I’m still trying to keep in touch with friends as much as I can because we’re all kind of spread out. That’s just a natural fact of post-grad life, so I’m just trying to hear from my friends and keep up with them.
DP: Sterling and Jarrett, how does Paul’s experience in the military shape what you want to do after graduation?
SS: I mean, he's been in active duty for literally a month as of today. So come springtime, I’ll have a better image of what he's doing in the Army, and then whether or not I'd like to do the same thing. So we know what some of his experience has been, but not a ton.
JS: Well I think as brothers, we compete with each other. So I’m kind looking for a way to one-up Paul, you know? We know where he was at our level, and so I’m kind of trying to be better than he was when he was at our stage.
DP: Paul, what aspect of ROTC challenged you the most?
PS: For me, a big thing was getting adjusted; I had one friend I did a summer program with, whom I knew, and everyone else was a complete stranger. I think just adjusting to academics on top of ROTC challenged me. I mean I didn’t do anything horrendous; I didn’t fail or anything like that. But I think through the struggling, I realized like how valuable mentorship is, giving back — helping people adjust to Princeton, no matter where they’re from. As a freshman I kind of ran around, trying to figure out sleep schedule and healthy habits and joining clubs. That actually encouraged me to be an RCA, which I did for two years.
DP: Sterling and Jarrett, what aspect of ROTC challenges you the most?
JS: I think it's the no off-season. We constantly have a consistent schedule, no matter if it's midterm week, or like during reading week. It’s just consistency.
SS: I guess it's physically challenging, in the sense that you're up very early, and it's really hard to get enough sleep. That starts to weigh on you, especially as the semester goes on. Sometimes PT actually is really tough. And then you have to go to class immediately after, and that's rough. So I've actually changed my schedule to where I try to avoid Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning classes just in case. I mean, granted, it's different because I broke my leg, so I do my own thing now, but in the past.
DP: Paul, what is the single greatest thing military service has taught you?
PS: It’s important to be your best self so you can serve others. I think that’s really important, constantly bettering yourself and doing more than what’s asked for you; things like self-studying, putting time into making yourself better physically, mentally, taking care of yourself and your body and understanding that you ultimately have to lead other people. I learned that as company commander my last year of ROTC. I pretty much oversaw everything that happened with my 49 cadets. I also RCA-ed and really realized how to be my best self and really be as prepared as possible to serve others. Have discipline and be considerate. In life, I try to be the friend that I would want to have. I try to be a leader that I would [follow] in something like combat or battle. So, learning and growing as a person have been really important. Just being my best self so I can serve others.
DP: Sterling and Jarrett, what is the single greatest thing military service has taught you?
SS: I’m a lot more disciplined. I like to say that one of the things I can like definitely do is wake up at any time. If I need to wake up at 2:17, I could probably get that done.
I think it helps you with your time management, because you do have a lot of commitments outside of school. You can't really have time management without developing more discipline. You do a lot of things you don't want to do, and you don't say anything about it. And that also improves your discipline.
JS: I think punctuality. I didn't realize that being a little late is so disrespectful to other people and their time. That’s something learned, to always show up on time. You know, being prepared.
SS: It really showed in [REDACTED]. You were very punctual.
JS: Shut up.
DP: How do you think that Princeton ROTC and general military service fits into the University’s motto of ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity?’
PS: Regardless of where our nation is, whether we’re in the middle of a war or things are more calm, I think that the aspect of serving in a volunteer force is very important. I think that it’s a true way to serve our country. I mean very few do it in general, but also very few people do it [at] Princeton as well. It’s important to understand that if you’re ROTC, you’re likely going to be serving and leading people immediately, at a very young age. I think it’s the embodiment of the motto. There are many ways of giving back. And we kind of walk in the footsteps of giants when the program has people like General Milley or General Cavoli, who’ve done exceptionally well and are true role models.
But I think my mom showed me how to serve before anyone in uniform ever did … I’m really proud to have done ROTC at Princeton, where it’s very challenging and you’re held to the same standards as everyone else in the country, regardless of how rigorous the academics are. I’m proud to be part of such a tradition and I’m glad to serve this country, and do it with a Princeton degree.
JS: In the military, you are the security for the United States. You also help people around the world. We are helping people not just here but all around the world. And I think with the military in particular, you have the risk of losing your life, and you're giving the ultimate sacrifice. I think that's what really makes it special.
SS: I think specifically at Princeton, you get a lot of questions about why you're doing it. I mean, literally everyone — even back home, even the guys who will Uber me to physical therapy — ask, “Oh, so you go to Princeton, aren't you a little too smart for the Army?” That's sort of a common idea, that you're too talented or too smart to be in the Army. Don’t you think that the people who defend this nation should be the most talented people? How can you be too talented to protect and defend the Constitution of The United States? We’re the people with the most to give. Why should we not give some of that?