“Asking me why I care about public service is like asking me why I breathe,”
says Pablo Lozano, Stanford junior. Pablo is part of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), serving as a soldier for a year and a half before coming to Stanford. He’s one of over 100 military-affiliated students, who come from a variety of different countries and backgrounds. Some feel like the military is just one extra facet to their otherwise normal life as a student. Others, mainly veterans, have had more trouble adjusting to life at Stanford.
“Until you have a certain level of security, you can’t do anything,” says Nicolas Lozano-Landinez, a junior at Stanford, and an ROTC cadet. Security is not a forefront concern for students at Stanford, but it is something Nicolas and Pablo think about daily. “A big part of what I’m fighting for is institutions like this one, where people can just longboard, ride bikes, and be carefree,” Pablo says.
Pablo spent his freshman year as a full-time student and a part-time soldier. “I’ve felt a detachment between Stanford and public service,” Pablo says. “I felt guilty that I got to enjoy 60 degree weather and cloudless skies while my friends were being deployed to Afghanistan.” It bothered him that while the people in his freshman dorm were going out to parties every weekend, his friends in the army were risking their lives. Eventually, he learned to focus on his life at school and let loose a little. But the disconnect between reality and the Stanford bubble persists.
Pablo isn’t alone in this experience. Sophomore Niall Sohan spent two years in the Singapore Armed Forces. “Immediately, and with very little room for error, I had to become a maturely thinking being in the military, or at least act like one,” Niall says. “My friends here call me grandpa.”
Sigalit Perelson served four years in the Israeli Defense Force, and was 24 years old when she started school as a freshman last fall. The age gap isn’t the only reason that Sigalit feels out of place walking through Stanford’s palm-lined, manicured lawns. Her base was very close to the Gaza Strip, and whenever an alarm would sound, everyone had 30 seconds to run to the bomb shelters. She says that at the time, everyone knew someone who was in combat in Gaza. “As an officer, I felt like a mom,” says Sigalit. “There were busses everyday going to funerals.” The surreal experience lasted over a month, with everyone sleeping in bomb shelters. Sigalit felt as though someone she knew was getting killed everyday.
Sigalit believes that age and maturity is a function of experience, and every student has a different background. And although she experienced an exponential growth period in the army, she says she’s experiencing another one right now in her freshman year at Stanford.
The military-civilian divide is a real issue in the U.S., especially since most soldiers come from a military legacy. Many people will never know that they’ve spoken to a veteran. Pablo believes there is a lack of understanding about the military, both nation-wide and on Stanford’s campus. “On two separate occasions on campus, I was called a baby killer,” Pablo says. “I had never gone to war, and most importantly I had never killed a baby. It caught me off guard that that was someone’s perception of what my uniform stood for.”
Relatively few people have a connection to someone affiliated with the military, so there’s no sense of loss when someone does pass away. “When [people] see the names on plaques around campus of students who have passed away in conflict, they just see it as a name. Or sometimes they confuse it with a donor,” Pablo says. When his class watched a documentary on the war in Iraq and a graphic violence scene played, Pablo saw many of his classmates shield their eyes. We filter what we see, but we cannot forget there are people who can't bury their head in the sand because this is their reality.
Now, Pablo Lozano is a full-time student as well as a cadet in the ROTC program. This means 11 hours per week of ROTC classes, labs, and training, with an additional 11 hours of commuting to Santa Clara University, where the program is based. He is often asked, Why. “People tell me that I go to Stanford, that I’m smart, that I don’t need to be doing this,” Pablo says. But instead of asking “why do I have to do this,” he asks “what can I contribute to this system that is lacking, how can I help fix these problems?”
“Stanford preaches the importance of public service, but rarely do you hear about people passing up the big paycheck for a government job or a position of sacrifice,” Pablo says. People are always asking Pablo if he’s okay with the fact that he won’t make as much money as he could be if he did something else with his degree, but he views military service as his way of giving back to the country that has helped him and his family so much.
As Stanford students inevitably progress in leadership positions, especially in political realms, the perspectives of those who have served are important to consider. “I hope people don’t forget that there is no job that they are above,” says Pablo. “There is no job in the world that anyone is too good to do, and we can all put on gloves and get our hands dirty when it’s appropriate.”
By: Katherine Eisenbrand
Photography by: Ryder Kimball
Note: This article has been edited since publication. Please note that these direct quotes are not the opinions of PULSE staff, but rather an expression of those who have served in the military of their respective countries.