Many people have been affected by the overseas campaigns that U.S. troops have been called to serve in. The United States has troops in over 135 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In honor of Veteran’s Day this Friday, Nov. 11, NMU students and faculty with overseas armed forces experience share their stories.
Interview with Simon Zelinski and David Smith
Zelinski is a junior biology major and Smith is a junior biology major. Together they served in the same National Guard unit while in Afghanistan for a year.
What made you want to join?
DS: “College benefits were great. I was really going nowhere in my life; most pveople go to college right after high school and I didn’t. I kind of was just sitting there. So, I thought it would be a great way to get out of the country and go see different places. I did that and it taught me good morals and good values while I was there.”
SZ: “I was bored with college. After a year and a half I got bored and decided to join.”
Do you want to continue serving and make a career out of it?
DS: “I have one year left on my contract and I don’t plan on going on with it and making a career out of it.”
SZ: “I’m in the ROTC program right now and I plan on being in it for a while.”
What is some of your experience while you were overseas?
SZ: “We met a lot of new people and befriended a lot of people.”
DS: “Our unit really bonded while we were there and formed that comradely as a group. It really changes your perspective. It changed me for the better and made me realize what people take for granted here.”
Do you have any family that have served before you, or are you the first in your family?
SZ: “I have a lot of family members that have served.”
DS: “I have a lot of family as well. My cousin was the one who said ‘hey you want to go do something with your life’ and I said ‘sure’ which is how I got started.”
What was your job while you were overseas?
DS: “We were route clearance; we drove around a lot; making sure that people were safe to pass through and military transport as well.”
SZ: “I was their medic.”
What was the experience like coming back to school from being gone for a year?
SZ: “The Veteran’s Association at the financial aid office out. I wasn’t getting paid the right amount and they helped.”
DS: “For me personally the biggest part was getting all the paperwork together and everything. It’s really overwhelming to take care of that but with the help of some people it made it easier to reintegrate.”
Best advice that you could give if someone is considering joining?
SZ: “It has to be a desire to want to join. Not really something you want to do on a whim.”
DS: “Talk to someone that has been in that situation so you have an idea of what it is going to be like. It should be really thought out. Talk to people in different areas in the military to figure out the route you would want to go.”
What would be advice for people who are getting back and want to come back to school?
SZ: “The biggest thing is at this moment if they want to start classes they need to start as soon as possible in signing up. It took me a while to get signed up for classes and had to use add cards and everything. Right now would be the best time to get all the paperwork taken care of and get everything done. Coming back we are actually trying to get a student organization on campus for veterans to help other veterans come back and help them with adjusting by being with other people who understand their situation and have an idea of what it’s like.”
Interview with Jose Almeyda
Almeydal is an instructor in NMU’s ROTC department.
Do you have any family that has joined the army before?
“I am the only one in my family to join. Everyone wonders why I wanted to do it and it came out of boredom.”
How did you get started?
“I was in junior ROTC in high school and I enjoyed that very much. I was bored. I just wanted to leave home and not stay home. It was just seeing older friends not doing. I’m glad I was bored I saw a lot of friends who haven’t changed and haven’t done anything. My best friend’s brother was in the army and used to tell stories. After hearing all those stories we decided to do at least three years and he did at least three years and I chose to make a profession out of it.”
How was your training when you got started?
“The first time I came in it was my first experience away from home. The first few months was really hard. But, once I got through my basic training and got into my first unit in January of ’99. The training was pretty fast paced. We were constantly out in the field shooting at ranges and stuff like that. Then I got to do different jobs; I got kinda lucky. It was like a blessing in disguise. A lot of us, when we get jobs, it’s not usually our military specialty. We don’t like it; we want to go back to do the fun stuff. I’m infantry so our training is basically shooting. But, I got moved from what I was doing because the army was spreading the company out so we could do different jobs. I got sent to the operation center for the brigade and I got to learn how the higher echelons think and operate and how and why they do the training. I did that for a year and a half and got tired of it. But, for my last year in the army the lead sergeant pulled me off to the side and mentored me and made see things in his perspective and told me don’t get out early and to reenlist in three years and that he would send me back to the unit I would want to go back to and could get out with some money. He kept his word and since then I haven’t looked back and haven’t tried to get out or anything like that.”
Can you share some of your experiences?
“As far as my experiences go, I’ve gotten six total deployments, three of them non-combat. My first one was to Kuwait and it was like a three month deployment. Nothing major, they needed drivers at brigade level so I volunteered. I needed the money and it was a better way to save my money.”
“My second deployment was to Egypt. It was about 11 different countries that did a combined training exercise. It was us practicing working with each other and running operations so we could better talk amongst each other.”
“My third one was Kosovo which was a peace keeping mission in the Balkans and that was a great deployment. We got to work with a lot so Serbians and Albanians that live in the area. It was a great way to learn and prepare myself for longer deployments in learning how to deal with local nationals in foreign countries.”
“My fourth deployment was in 2003 in the initial invasion of Iraq. That was about seven months and when I returned from that one I went to Korea and spent two and a half years in Korea. Our base mission there was preventing anything from happening between North Korea and South Korea and if anything were to happen we’d be the quick reaction to help out the South Koreans. I got back to the states in September 2006 where I went back to Georgia and that is where I did my second and third deployments to Iraq. One was a 15 month deployment and the other one just ended in October of last year which was a 12 month deployment. I decided I needed a break so I asked to come teach here.”
What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is considering joining?
“Best advice. Best to know a little something about it and ask your recruiter a lot of questions and concerns you may have. You definitely have to be strong minded. A lot of people think when thinking about any of the armed forces are thinking about needing to be physically fit. Yes, you have to be but the biggest thing is mentally fit. If you are not strong minded at all, if you can’t handle some stress you are going to be in for some hard time. Army life is fast paced and a lot of stressful and great times. Even if it is only for two or three years I think everyone should do it. We’re lucky enough that it is voluntary, unlike other countries. In Korea once you turn eighteen it’s mandatory to spend two years in service regardless if you plan on staying or not. We have the option of choosing. But, I think everyone should do it, I think you learn a lot and mentally it helps you out a lot in preparing for just everyday struggles. The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of it is preparing for something hard.”