I turn off my alarm. It’s 5 a.m.
The campus, which is normally bustling with over 50,000 students, seems completely deserted now. I drive to the physical fitness building to meet 100 other groggy faces. For an hour, we do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. After this grueling session, the campus starts to fill up slowly and it’s finally time to start my day.
I’m an ROTC student. This consists of early mornings, long hours of training and an unbreakable bond between my comrades and me. Everyone goes to college trying to find their niche in our subcultures here. You’ve got your football players, fraternities and academics. For us, this is just another niche. The difference is that it’s also our job.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in to the military. Freshman year, I signed up to be part of the ROTC as well as the National Guard. In addition to ROTC training during the week, I go to an Air Force base on weekends to train with the F Co INF LRS. This meant that I could potentially be deployed at any time during my college career.
During my sophomore year, I got the call that I’d be leaving for Iraq. While my friends were partying at their lake houses in the summer of 2008, I was in basic training preparing to enter a war zone.
Anticipating my deployment was one of the most exciting feelings of my life. Just knowing that I’d be going overseas with such an amazing unit gave me the confidence that we were going to be fine.
When we arrived in Kuwait, I had to instantly adjust to the blistering heat. It was difficult to realize that a war zone could be in a country so beautiful. Once we got on our missions and started rolling around, I always took the time to notice some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
We did a full spectrum infantry mission, and one of the most challenging aspects was not speaking the native tongue. Communication was difficult, especially in tense situations that often occurred overseas.
When I was away, I was always thinking about home. You never stop thinking about home. It’s always there in the back of your mind. When Michigan State made it to the Final Four in 2010, I Skyped my friends so they could point the computer at the television while they gathered around it. That was really hard for me.
I returned to Michigan on May 9, 2010. It was very hard to get back to school after taking a break for two years.
In May, I will be graduating college at the age of 24. Though the timing is off, my experiences with the National Guard were worth every minute and I wouldn’t change it for the world. When I tell myself that I can’t believe what I’ve been through, I just remind myself how grateful I am for the experience.
And when I tell people on campus that I’ve been deployed, they are shocked. It’s hard for people to understand what I’ve been through, but how could they?
When my friends would complain about minute things at school, I was baffled by how much they didn’t understand about what’s going on outside their little college world. To their credit though, that’s the whole point of what I do.
We serve our country so citizens don’t have to deal with the thought of war on a day-to-day basis.