By Bethany Erb

Sitting down with Ryan Robles, I found it hard to believe that this calm, soft-spoken veteran had spent several years jumping out of airplanes, living with indigenous tribes in Africa, and being engaged in active combat. With his Patagonia baseball cap and speckled-grey sweater, Ryan blends in—his extraordinary life cloaked by typical aesthetics. As a Senior Airman (A4), Ryan served in the US Air Force from October 2009, to August 2014. As a Senior Airman, he was in a transition period from journeyman to Non-Commissioned Officer, while he developed supervisory and leadership skills through “Professional Military Experience” and individual study.

He graciously answered a few questions about his service, transition to PUC, and the worst MRE meal he ever tasted (warning: it sounds pretty terrible).

What made you think, “I’m going to join the army?” “Honestly, I don’t know. I went to a small community college— in Napa Valley—for two years. I thought I was going to play water polo in the US Olympics. But that didn’t pan out, so I knew I had to do something else. The Air Force caught my eye.”

We’ve all heard horror stories about boot camp. What was it really like? “For me, boot camp was the easiest part. It wasn’t bad at all—pretty corny, actually. It was just a lot of screaming, breaking you down, creating a sense of routine. I had to shave my head, but then I grew it back again. My career in the Air Force was more relaxed than most, so I got off easy.”

Where did your service take you? “Oh, hmm…I went a lot of places. I started off in San Antonio, on the Lackland Air Force base, for basic training. Then I moved to North Carolina, and then Fort Walden Beach, Florida. But along the way, I was deployed in Africa, in Djibouti (in the Horn of Africa), Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan. I was in Afghanistan twice, as well.”

What was that like? The culture must have been radically different. “It was interesting. My team and I would live with indigenous people for weeks at a time, but then we’d come back to a base for Wi-Fi. It changed my perspective on life—for those indigenous peoples, every day is a fight to survive. Now I wake up and am so grateful to be where I am, in this country because it could look a lot different.”

Unajua jinsi ya kuzungumza Kiswahili? “Haha, I know a little Swahili. Words like asante (thank you), karibu (welcome), jambo (hello), and a few others. But I wasn’t surrounded by the culture long enough to absorb the language.”

I have to ask—what was the worst MRE you tasted? “Oh, there’s no competition. The worst MRE was the “veggie omelet.” It was absolutely disgusting. The flavor, seasoning—everything was off. I remember it so clearly. It was nauseating. It had the consistency of mucus in a bag.”

Okay, gross. Let’s move on. Why PUC? “My wife was going here to get her B.S.N in Nursing; when she got accepted, I was like, wait. What about PUC? It’s only 40 minutes away from where I grew up, it’s secluded, and PUC has an emergency management program. I did some research and decided it was the college for me. With its Yellow Ribbon program, it’s a great place for veterans.”

Is there something you wish students knew about PUC’s veterans? “We’re just like everybody else. People sometimes think we’re less human, or intimidating, and it’s nothing like that. We’re normal. Same problems and issues like anybody else.”

But nowadays, does life seem slower? Less fast-paced and adrenalized? “Absolutely. I miss the Air Force so much. Jumping out of airplanes, diving, combat training…it (and my team) were the best things that ever happened to me. I’ll never forget my last day. They threw me a going-away party over the weekend, and I drove home on Sunday. When I woke up the next day, I felt bored…it was such a strange sensation. I reorganized the garage five times that week. The home cooked meals were worth it, though.”

You have a lot of plans for the future. “Yes, the military forced me to grow up really quick and be mature. I’m married, my wife has already graduated, and we’re looking at houses. We want to settle down and see where life takes us. Being in the military was amazing, but there are other things, you know, that are more valuable now. Starting a family, having kids…there are a lot of possibilities.”

Last question. Describe PUC in three words: “Small. Academic. Diverse.”

Many thanks to Ryan Robles for his military service and gracious willingness to share his story. On PUC’s campus, there are many veterans. They value the quiet, secluded nature of PUC and the small classsize; however, they still love to connect with fellow students and find connections through hobbies and academics. If you are interested in finding out more about this demographic, or sharing your story as a veteran, feel free to contact us or Robert Quiroz (rnquiroz@puc.edu), president of PUC’s Veteran’s Club.