After failing attempts at college twice, Brad Carney never dreamed a degree from an Ivy League university was possible. Now, more than a decade later, Carney is pursuing a second Ivy League diploma.
The 2006 Kokomo High School graduate and former Army Ranger earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College this spring and will begin law school at Harvard University in the fall. But Carney's path in life wasn’t always so clear.
Following graduation from KHS, Carney enrolled at Delaware State University for one semester before transferring to Delaware Technical Community College. Carney said he failed at both institutions, which prompted him to consider the military.
“I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life,” Carney said. “I decided to try something new.”
Carney visited an Air Force recruiter and chose to become a Tactical Air Control Party Specialist, which embed with Army and Marine units on the frontlines and were responsible for calling in an airstrike on the right target at the right time.
“My parents had a hard time with this and wanted me to choose something safer,” Carney said. “I was set on doing this job, and subsequently, I was kicked out of the house.”
For a brief time, Carney was homeless and had no money, so he needed to figure out his next steps and fast. Carney called a U.S. Army recruiter who helped him choose a job similar to Tactical Air Control Party Specialist. The recruiter fast-tracked the paperwork so Carney could start Basic Training quickly. In the Army, Carney became a Joint Fire Support Specialist, with his training focused on learning how to “call for fire” from artillery and mortar systems onto an enemy location.
Carney was given the chance to attend Pre-Ranger Training at Fort Bragg for a spot at Ranger School, an Army leadership course that anyone can attend. He went to Pre-Ranger Training and quit.
“I was in excellent physical shape, but I quit because it was hard,” Carney said. “I wasn’t mentally prepared for the experience. Shortly after, in 2010, I left the Army for the first time with dreams of success in the civilian world. I gained too much weight and was depressed as the reality of being a ‘quitter’ hit me hard every day. One day I decided I was going to re-join and try out for the Army Special Forces or Rangers. I felt a bit crazy, and I think my family thought I was a bit crazy, too. I did it anyway.”
After he was back in the Army, Carney called the Ranger recruiter and asked about joining. Carney received orders for the eight-week selection course and was off to try to earn a spot in the special operations unit.
“The eight-week course was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life,” Carney said. “Physically, it probably was the hardest thing I have done because the expectations were much higher. The Ranger creed isn’t just words on a page; you actually are expected to run farther, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier."
During his time in the Army, Carney served as a team leader in the Army’s premier direct action special operations unit and maintained $300,000 worth of radio equipment for a small team in austere conditions while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Carney also maintained crucial radio communication with aircraft and ground forces in support of training missions with South Korean Special Operations Forces.
As Carney's Army contract came to an end in 2015, he was either going to try out for another special operations unit and spend a career in the Army or go back to school. Carney settled on returning to school, and he chose his destination through an internet search.
“I Googled ‘Ivy League schools and veterans’ because I knew Ivy League schools were considered good, but I wasn’t familiar with anything in the world of academia,” Carney said.
During his internet search, Carney discovered the Posse Veterans Program, which identifies, trains, and supports veterans interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees at top colleges and universities. Candidates for the scholarship and mentoring program participate in a three-stage interview process to identify veterans who can succeed at highly selective colleges.
Carney nominated himself for the program and was selected for a spot in the 10-person cohort attending Dartmouth College.
“I was in disbelief that someone like me could attend such a great school,” Carney said. “The opportunity to be around so many accomplished students was rewarding and scary at the same time. I felt like everyone was the top student at their high school and had near-perfect test scores. I had to play catch up with respect to my reading and writing abilities. My professors’ expectations were not lowered because I was an older veteran.”
Carney was able to survey different courses before declaring a major, but philosophy won his heart. The veteran fell in love with the topic after taking a class called Ethics of Freedom. Developing a philosophical framework, Carney said, required the ability to read critically, think analytically, and develop sound argumentation.
“Philosophical thinking demands clarity of thought because of the complexity of ideas and systems,” Carney said. “How many innovations happened because someone asked not just how to do something but why something is done? Philosophy demands that we think about our assumptions. What I learned has helped me in business, sports, and life.”
Outside the classroom, Carney became involved in Dartmouth’s campus life. Dartmouth’s campus speakers were a highlight for Carney, allowing him to meet, and speak with, public figures like Hillary Clinton and James Mattis.
Carney served as president of Dartmouth Powerlifting, where he grew the organization from 12 active members to 20 and enhanced the team’s competitiveness by introducing a new weightlifting program for team athletes.
From 2017 to 2018, Carney also was president of Dartmouth’s Student Veterans Association. In this role, Carney led bi-weekly meetings related to the enhancement of student veterans’ experiences on campus. Carney helped secure the first veterans' lounge in Dartmouth College history by lobbying the college administration on behalf of the student veteran population. Carney continues to work with the organization Service to School, where he serves as an undergraduate mentor helping veterans with essays and admissions planning.
These public service activities were important to Carney.
“I think the true mark of success will be how much I have done to help those who need support,” Carney said. “I love working with veterans because they are like an extended family. I think veterans have a unique set of issues, some of which can be addressed only by other veterans.”
Carney's college internship required him to work on behalf of another population. The Dartmouth alum spent the summer serving as an academic research intern for the New Hampshire Parole Board. In this role, Carney gathered parole criteria from 48 state statutes and extracted quantifiable data to evaluate policies and measure efficacy in reducing recidivism. At the end of the internship, Carney had produced a 10-page report that provided recommendations for a revised parole process that was fairer and more transparent.
“The internship was great because I was able to do real work to help inform future prison policy,” Carney said. “One of the key takeaways is that reform is hard, and multiple interests need to be balanced. In short, few easy answers exist to complex policy problems.”
That experience will help Carney as he begins law school at Harvard University. While he was unsure whether he will continue work in the field of prison policy, Carney could see himself helping a nonprofit with legal research during his career.
Carney's law school experience will shape his future plans as a litigator, but he has a few possibilities in mind.
“I hope to pursue intellectual property litigation, general corporate litigation, or bankruptcy law because I enjoy negotiation and conflict,” Carney said. “I also am interested in education policy, and I hope to use my legal experience to make educational opportunities more accessible to all citizens.”