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Saturday, April 13, 2024

UC Davis students serving in the Military Reserve describe their experiences

According to students, serving in the military can have financial and social benefits 


By AMBER WARNKE — features@theaggie.org 


Serving in the military is often presented as an alternative path to college, but some students choose to pursue both. The Military Reserve is a route many college students take, in which they only serve for one weekend a month following their military training. This allows them to pursue other career or education options, including college, simultaneously. As of 2021, UC Davis hosted 9% of all military-affiliated students in the UC System, which supports 250 Reservists.

According to Dylan Bear, a second-year political science major currently serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a heavy equipment operator, military training often translates to one’s career and college journey. 

“The military isn’t just the weekends; it’s a way of living,” Bear said. “You build that from basic training or boot camp, […] and you just have to have that discipline to do what you need to do for the military, pursue that future, as well as your school work.”

Bear said it is important to manage your time and energy effectively in the Reserve.

“If you decide to do this path, you need to know that there is a balance that you need to find personally,” Bear said. “It’s a give or take — What do you want more, your future or your present?” 

John Por, a fourth-year psychology major and sergeant combat medic for the U.S. Army Reserve, said this balance can often be difficult.
“The switch between being a civilian for 28 days a month, and then [having] to be all ‘soldiery’ for two days a month, is a bit rough,” Por said.

Many Reservists benefit from the social aspect of the military when on duty. 

“It’s a culture […] you’re not going to find anywhere else,” Bear said. “You’re with a group of people 24/7 […] and you’re just doing what you want to do and half of it is just screwing around, having fun.”

For Angelee Rivera, a second-year human development major serving as a combat medic, the Reserve has had a similar impact. 

“I drill here in Sacramento, so I have met a lot of people in my unit, and a lot of us are the same age, and kind of have the same career aspirations,” Rivera said. “It’s a nice sense of community and after I joined, I also decided to do ROTC here at the school, so that impacted me a lot as well just because I feel like it expanded my social circle. We have to do a bunch of stuff together like exercise at six in the morning or lab activities.”

Rivera went to basic training at the age of 17, opting to defer from college for a year to make time for her military training. 

“It was kind of hard because I was super young,” Rivera said. “But it definitely gave me a taste of the real world and how to be self-sufficient on my own, so when I came to college, I felt more prepared.” 

In addition to the social benefits, Rivera said the military has helped her financially.

“The financial backing is, to be honest, great,” Rivera said. “Now, [my parents] don’t need to worry about funding my college. I think about it like a part-time job where I only work two days a month, so it’s pretty worth it for me.”

When Rivera first tells people she’s in the Army Reserve, she is often met with surprise. 

“A lot of times, they […] come across as shocked and that’s because I don’t give off the energy, I guess, of someone who’s in the military because I’m a little smaller, and I’m a female especially,” Rivera said. “I’m definitely aware that I’m in the minority. I feel like in every military setting I’ve been in, […] I always notice, like, for every female there’s like three males, so it’s a little tough because I feel like I have to work harder to prove myself.”

Yim Jinyoung, a first-year data science major in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) who serves as a transportation management coordinator in the U.S. Army Reserve, has faced a similar response. 

“I feel like a lot of people are surprised because they don’t really expect someone like me, an Asian young woman, to be in the Army,” Jinyoung said. “But once you’re in the Army, you do see a lot of different kinds of people. There are a lot of young women like me and also people who fit in the stereotypical ‘Army man’ kind-of vibe, but then, there are also people that you would not expect to be in the military.”

When she first joined the military, which she had been considering since middle school, Jinyoung’s parents were curious about what it would entail. 

Once she got to basic training, Jinyoung faced the stress of being away from home. 

“I didn’t want to look like a coward, you know?” Jinyoung said. “I was honestly a little bit scared, but I didn’t really want to show it because I didn’t want to make other people get nervous with me, and I wanted to ease their minds, so I was like, ‘I’m not scared at all.’”

Samatha Gonzolaz, a second-year human biology major, is a cadet in ROTC and serves in the Reserve as a mortuary affairs specialist. Similar to Jinyoung, Gonzolaz also learned to take on a different mindset in basic training. 

“That military bearing was instilled in me in basic training, so I feel like that’ll never go away,” Gonzolaz said. “I actually still do utilize the stuff I learned in basic. Even when I […] fold my clothes, I fold it the same way; it’s called a Ranger Role. The mentality that I had in basic is still here as a civilian. I would honestly say that the military mentality definitely takes over my civilian life more than my civilian life takes over my military life. When I go to drill, it’s like, ‘All right, I’m not a civilian.’ I know that I have to have that switch.”

She also has experienced strong social benefits from her training. 

“The friendships that I make over time, […] we do share the same hardships, so we do create different bonds than most people do in the civilian life,” Gonzolaz said. “We go through lots of events — I don’t want to say traumatizing events — but they are pretty hard. But the fact that we go through them together, it makes our bond stronger. The people that I have met in the Reserve, they’re like my best friends up until now. I honestly see them being in my life forever.” 

One downside for Gonzolaz is that she had to miss two quarters at UC Davis for her training, which was difficult to navigate. However, the military has allowed her to fund her college degree. 

“I would definitely say if you’re willing to pause your college and come back to it later, it is 100% beneficial,” Gonzolaz said. 

Rivera said joining the U.S. Reserve is worth it, especially if you know you need financial aid to go through college. 

“Life is short, have as many experiences as you can, and the military is a great way to do that,” Rivera said. “I really like the experiences, I really like adventure, I suppose. So it just seemed super exciting to do something that I never thought I would do, and you know, something that was scary and physically and mentally challenging. You get to meet a whole bunch of other people. It’s just honestly fun; I try to think of it like summer camp.” 

Written by: Amber Warnke — features@theaggie.org