For some, military service offers the fulfilment of family tradition. For others, it is a chance to see the world. And for still others, it is a provision of financial support. Veterans Brandon Pedroza ’22 and Gage Wrye ’24 had differing reasons for joining the armed services before enrolling at Pomona College. But both also seized it as an opportunity to do something significant for their nation.
Wrye, who is from Atlanta, Georgia, was a Navy petty officer third class and nuclear reactor operator who served for three years and was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina. First and foremost, he wanted to serve his country and protect the ideals outlined in the Constitution, he says.
“Looking back that’s a bit idealistic, but it still holds true,” says Wrye.
Coming from a low-income background, joining the Navy was a path to financial stability and a way to help pay for college down the road as well. It was also part of the legacy he’d been handed; his father had served as a Marine, as had his uncle before transferring to the Air Force.
“I felt like military service was almost a tradition in my family that I wanted to continue.”
However, one hope didn’t pan out. The traveling and seeing the world part. He remained in Charleston.
There were highlights and lowlights. The best takeaways from that time are the friends he made and people he met, he says. He was the athletics petty officer for his class, a personal trainer of sorts, leading group exercises and ensuring everyone met the physical standards. The biggest challenges were adapting to a military environment and losing free time, he says.
“It can put a lot of stress on you when you have to work in an environment that is not always hospitable, work long hours, and adhere to strict standards. That kind of stress can weigh heavily on your body not only mentally, but also physically, impacting health.”
Wrye was medically retired for injury and illness. Next up was a different kind of education—a liberal arts one. Pomona College was the only college Wrye applied to attend. He was drawn to the independence he would have designing his educational experience and the exposure he would have to various ideas and disciplines. The individual attention, the meaningful relationships that were possible with professors, the weather and small size classes were important to him as well.
“It also cuts down on the bureaucracy and red tape that comes with dealing with larger institutions and larger student bodies. Coming from the military, less bureaucracy was a big deal to me,” says Wrye.
The financial aid available to him set Pomona apart as well.
“Pomona was affordable for me even without using my GI bill,” he says.
That’s one of the reasons Wrye, a computer science major, believes Pomona is among the best schools for veterans. So much so that he is in the process of forming a veterans club with the aim of reaching out to potential veteran students to let them know why Pomona is a good choice for them. He invites veterans to reach out to him via email.
He notes that veterans coming to Pomona have certain advantages over other students.
“The military helps you—or rather makes you—develop self-discipline. Through the military training and arduous schooling in the nuclear pipeline, I am more prepared than I was right out of high school as far as academics go. My experience leading and seeing different leadership styles—both good and bad—is also something that might help me.”
Call of Duty
Pedroza, who hails from Azusa, California, was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He joined the Marines in 2012 after attending Mt. San Antonio Community College (not far from The Claremont Colleges) and realizing college just wasn’t what he wanted to do at the time.
“I knew there was a Marine recruiting station just across the street from the school and decided it was something I was going to look into. I knew joining would be a new challenge and I wanted to earn the coveted title of United States Marine.”
The greatest highlight of his years in in the military, from 2012-2017, was serving as a platoon sergeant for the 1st Platoon of the Marine Security Force at the White House Communications Agency, overseeing Marines to carry out the physical security of the agency. Unlike Wrye, travel was part and parcel of Pedroza’s duties. He traveled both domestically to Chesapeake, Virginia and Washington D.C., and also internationally as he was sent on presidential trips to Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Ireland, Sicily, Serbia and Kenya.
Pedroza also cites the relationships he formed while in service.
“During all the highlights and lowlights of my service my friends were always there with me, celebrating or suffering together.”
For him, the biggest challenge—though it was something he got accustomed to—was the fact that he was always on the job. No matter what time of day or night, when they called, Pedroza had to answer and show up. He says the lowest moments were the first couple of weeks in recruit training.
“It was such a culture shock to me from going from living in my parents’ house my entire life to getting my head shaved and getting yelled at on a daily basis,” Pedroza says.
Eventually, he came to believe he had accomplished a lot with the Marines but he wasn’t maximizing his potential, so it was time to try something new. Yet among the things he wanted to continue was being part of a community. While a student at Citrus College, a local community college, he visited Pomona. He felt this was a place that would offer the sense of connection he missed from his time in the service. Since becoming a student, he says he’s seen the attempts of faculty and students to further cultivate those connections.
Pedroza, who is exploring the fields of physics and astronomy, is also a nontraditional student in that he’s married. But like Wrye, he brings another set of qualities that set him apart.
“I carry with me a sense of responsibility and maturity that a lot of students are still forming in their young adult years. I also carry with me a sense of leadership and professionalism that came from being a leader of Marines.”