4C The Statement // WednesdayJanuary S.2011
WenedyJnur 5 011//Th taemn
From overseas tours to
by Rachel Van Gilder
Photos by Salam Rida
he University is home to about 40,000 stu-
dents from many different walks of life.
About 214 of these students have life expe-
riences radically different from the rest of the stu-
dent body: they are veterans of the United States
military. After immersion in the chaotic life of
the wartime, they are reintroduced into the life of
Since the U.S. is currently involved in two
large-scale conflicts in the Middle East, many of
these vets have served overseas in combat zones.
For these former military personnel, the Univer-
sity is a different world. For many veterans, the
transition from soldier, sailor, airman or Marine
to full-time student isn't easy.
A different experience
In the winter of 2007, Eric Fretz, a lieutenant
commander in the Navy Reserve and a Ph.D. can-
didate, was involuntarily recalled to serve a year-
longtour in Iraq.
"Seven days before Christmas, I was working
at my wife's medical clinic. Seven days before
Christmas," said Fretz who was in his 19th year in
the military and was planning to retire. "The guy
on the phone - he had this British accent, it was
the funniest thing - he said: 'This is Petty Offi-
cer so-and-so, from New Orleans. Are you sitting
I said, 'Uh, I'm standing, Petty Officer, but go
ahead. Pass your traffic, what do you got?'
'Well, I've got orders for you, sir. You're being
involuntarily mobilized. We're sending you to
I remember sitting down, looking out at that
snow fall ... and I said, 'When do I leave?'"
After that conversation, Fretz had 20 days
before he would spend at least one year in Iraq. "I
couldn't tell my wife for two days," Fretz remem-
During his tour in Iraq, Fretz served with the
Army's 18th Airborne Corps. He explained that
though he was in the Navy, he was assigned to
work with the Army because the Marine Corps
were so strained.
Fretz has made the transition from sailor to
student several times: he alternated from active
duty to reserves and obtained two bachelor's
degrees, a master's and a Ph.D. along the way.
"It's always a significant thing," said Fretz, who around here all the time. So you may still tend to
received his first bachelor's degree from the Uni- look at that plastic bottle the same way you did in
versity and was a member of the NROTC. "Very Iraq. So it's this thing of looking around, always
quickly, you get pulled acrossthat boundary. Either figuring out, always assessing my environment
you can thrive in that environment, or you can't." when it's pretty safe. I still do that sometimes."
Not all military personnel on campus are vet- According to Fretz, time in a war zone takes its
erans. The Tri-Service ROTC prepares cadets toll on the average soldier.
and midshipmen to become officers in the Army, "For those who go into a combat zone, for those
Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, but some of who actually have to deal with people trying to
the ROTC staff members and individuals train- kill them ... That's a problem. That's not normal.
ing to become officers have served time in Iraq or That damages people," explained Fretz, who also
Afghanistan while others served during the Gulf received a doctorate from the University's Com-
War. bined Program in Education and Psychology in
Capt. Rodney Sapp of the Marine Corps is December 2010.
stationed in the Naval ROTC unit. He advises Anthony Woodward, a second-year graduate
Marines in the unit and served six months in Iraq student in the Ross School of Business and former
during 2006. For Sapp, the awareness required of Army captain, left the military after his second
an active-duty soldier was hard to shake when he tour in Iraq.
returned to the States. "The continued deployments, they were taking
"The most difficult thing was coming down me away from family, friends, my 20s. So I decid-
from the high tempo of operations," Sapp said. ed to get out," Woodward said. "I couldn't take it
"Being in the combat zone, you're always on anymore."
the alert, no matter what it is. Even if it's a small Woodward, like hundreds of thousands of
plastic bottle ... and it looks like it's out of place, other veterans acrossthe country, decided to head
you kind of zone in on it. Well, plastic bottles are back to the classroom.