Building Back Up

A veteran's journey to get his bachelor’s

By Bryan Martinez, Contributor

Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

A soldier’s fear can be the unknown of death or the thought of disgracing their family. By conquering this feeling, a soldier does remarkable things both in the Army and in their life after.

I served in the U.S. Army from 2007 to 2011 as a 91 Bravo-Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, and did my tour of duty in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

I will never forget how I felt when I finally came home from Afghanistan. Being away for so long, it made me appreciate the small things in life. Still, there was doubt about how I was going to adjust to normal civilian life. On top of that, I did not know what I would do back in California. I was overwhelmed and I needed help.

I will never forget how I felt when I finally came home from Afghanistan.

Not even three months after landing on American soil, my brother Kevin, a Marine himself, helped me enrolled at Santa Ana College. He had some sense of where he was going in life, and it gave me a new sense of motivation. I felt getting a bachelor's degree was a feat worth accomplishing. In my classes, I applied traits I picked up in the Army such as attention to detail, honesty and courage in the face of difficult situations. A class I had difficulty in was statistics since it had been six years since my last math class. I did not run away as it was just one step towards my ultimate goal. I ended up going to tutoring and put in extra hours on homework to pass the class. After two years, I was able to earn my A.A. degree in liberal arts.

I still felt lost and tired of life. I didn’t feel like my existence had any purpose. Then an opportunity presented itself. Since I have a background in diesel engines, my older brother Ivan gave me some direction by hiring me in the company he works for. He is the manager of distribution heavy duty equipment at construction sites in which I would repair the construction equipment.

In spite of this, I still felt lost and quickly learned how far education can take someone. In particular when it comes down to being a sales rep for auto parts to being the manager of the sale rep. With this in mind and Ivan giving me time off, I was able to go back to school again. I obtained another A.A. degree in communication. Then it was time to choose which four year school I was going to transfer to, and the choices seem unlimited.

Everyone faces their own challenges, but how one overcomes them is what makes the person.

The final choice ended up being California State University, Long Beach, on account of the energetic atmosphere of the school and how they take care of military veterans. Being around the Veteran Center, I saw many individuals succeed on account of the help they provided which I seeked many times. For this reason, I was able to flourish at this school with the help of the Veteran Center. They guided me throughout my time at CSULB by recommending tutoring and any questions regarding my benefits. My professors were also very understanding of my situation, and my fellow students helped me and I felt respected as an individual. All these factors made the transition from community college less difficult.

Now I am graduating with a B.A. in communication studies, a minor in public relations, and a certificate in mediation. If you told me eight years ago that the hard work I put in at Santa Ana College was going to pay off with a degree from CSULB, I would have told you that you were crazy. I never saw myself graduating at this level but after all the hard work I can picture my graduation already.

I would choose Long Beach State all over again and will definitely not stop supporting the school who helped finish my goals. I am going use my degree to work toward my next goal of working in public relations, ideally for a company like Caterpillar, Bobcat or John Deere. Everyone faces their own challenges, but how one overcomes them is what makes the person. After all I have been through, I am ready to face the challenges in the next chapter of my life.