DU military students share past experiences and future dreams

Military students, both novices and veterans, make up a large percentage of the student population at the University of Denver; though, very few people on campus are aware of both DU’s military program and its members: they may see a trio of individuals in camouflage uniform marching by on Driscoll Bridge and readily assume that they are soldiers visiting the school. Despite their low profile, these military students lead extraordinary lives among their unknowing peers, balancing schoolwork with rigorous training and learning to apply their outdoor military skills in the classroom.

Not like everyone else

Christopher Brooks, DU student and U.S. Air Force veteran.

Christopher Brooks, a DU student and U.S. Air Force veteran, has returned to school after 28 years in service.

After 28 years of service, Christopher Brooks, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force, returned to college to complete a graduate degree in International Security at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Having obtained his last graduate degree in ’92, Brooks, a commuter from Colorado Springs, relates his experience integrating back into the college scene.

“I love being able to walk around campus and feel like I’m one of the people here,” says Brooks. “It’s funny because I feel like I’m just as young as everybody else.”

Age is not the only difference between Brooks and the rest of the student population. “Being a veteran gives you a perspective that not too many people in our country have,” he states.

Taking the big leap

At the undergraduate level, DU students have the option of signing up for the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFROTC) or the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AROTC), taking courses in leadership techniques, tactics, military law, history, national strategy, and Army policies.

Although DU students enroll in the courses through regular DU registration, the classes  are taught on other campuses in the Denver Metro Area, such as the CU Boulder and Auraria campuses. As opposed to DU’s quarter system, these students follow the semester calendar. In addition to formal training, ROTC students in either category complete a mandatory four week-long summer boot camp, and engage in physical fitness training throughout the academic year.

Maddie Alvarado, a DU sophomore studying Psychology describes her double life as a current AROTC program member: “We live completely different standards than if I would have just gone to college normally,” Alvarado insists.

DU AROTC students engage in physical fitness.

DU AROTC students engage in physical fitness.

Initially, Alvarado joined the program to gain affordable access to higher education. “I was struggling through high school with how I was going to pay for college,” recounts Alvarado. But her motivation has changed since joining the program, leading her to seek a career in the military as a clinical psychologist.

“My goal is to join the medical service corps, so I plan to stay in the military for a really long time.”  She describes her change of heart, alluding to the advantage military training can offer individuals who wish to leave a mark on society.

“Now, being in the program, I decided that I really want it to be a big integral part of my life,” Alvarado says. “I want to get my graduate degree, go up in the ranks and make a difference.”

The fight continues

Patrick Stefan, an Army Reserve Chaplain currently works as a joint PhD student, studying specifically in the field of biblical interpretation. After serving in the Marine Corps for 11 years, Stefan recounts the impact that active duty has made on his life. “I owe a lot to what the military has done for me,” says Stefan.

His training has taught him endurance, not only physically, but also in terms of taking on large loads of responsibility, a skill that comes in handy when juggling military training with homework.

Patrick Stefan, PhD student at DU and Marine Corps veteran

Patrick Stefan, a PhD student at DU and Marine Corps veteran, enjoys everything the school has to offer.

Unfortunately, the military’s intense physical training also has its drawbacks; according to Stefan, many military students suffer a feeling of inadequacy, struggling to engage fully with the scholarly theory aspect of university courses.

“Because you live in this world that’s very tactile and you’re always doing things with real objects,” explains Stefan; “You’re not always in the world of thought.”

Though that may be true, the military students at DU are engulfed in knowledge, and their desire to learn is facilitated with the remembrance of the sacrifices many have made and those that have yet to come.

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