Thunder and lightening filled the sky. It was predicted to be the worst rain in 60 years. The two privates had only ponchos and whatever materials they could gather to build the makeshift tent, which had to be camouflaged and low to the ground.
In the morning, Private Max Gross looked to his fellow soldier and said “So, Grothaus, did that lightening last night scare you?”
His companion admitted sheepishly that it had, and Gross continued,“Yeah when that lightening struck you kind of hopped back a little bit. It was kind of cute.”
Private Jesse Grothaus couldn’t help but laugh in spite of himself.
Such comradery is what Grothaus left behind when he finished basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. to come to Cal Poly.
After finishing training in August 2008, Grothaus enrolled at Cal Poly as an economics major. Yet despite becoming involved in Poly Reps and Week of Welcome, he still felt there was something missing from his life. He knew that his adjustment to college would not be the same as the majority of freshmen, who come straight from high school.
Looking to find others with a common bond, Grothaus wanted to start a club on campus for other young veterans such as himself.
“A lot of military guys have this comradery and brotherhood that was extremely prevalent in the military life, but when we come to the civilian college world it is not the same. I wanted to provide the opportunity to get a taste of that back,” he said.
However, when he took the first step to get the club established, he hit a roadblock.
The biggest problem he encountered was not writing the club’s bylaws, working with Veteran’s Affairs or any of the paperwork. It was simply finding names behind the eight signatures that Associated Students Inc. requires to start a club.
While there are about 90 student veterans on campus, Grothaus is unable to receive their names due to campus policies and Federal Law, according to administrative support coordinator Steven Chandler, a veterans certifying official.
Although Grothaus already knew one Marine veteran, agricultural business freshman Scott Somersett, he was unsure how he would find seven others. The two students knew they had a large task ahead but didn’t see it as impossible. Somersett said he hoped the club would be a helpful way to connect with and have support from fellow student veterans, while also being more informed about the benefits that are available to them.
“Even if we aren’t in the same branch, we all think the same way and do things in a very similar fashion,” he said. “We just wanted to have a community with military personnel so we could connect.”
At San Jose State University, Grothaus’ friend and Army combat medic and journalism freshman Canh Heewah Ha said the veterans club at his school offers tips for how to best use the services provided for student veterans, help with documents and forms, priority registration and group support.
He said that club provides a space for people who have had similar experiences to share their feelings, struggles and achievements. Grothaus continues to look to start such a club at Cal Poly and has now recruited five interested veterans.
Students often don’t understand the difference between being in the Army Reserves and being in the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps, he said. ROTC trains student cadets to become officers, or second lieutenants. After graduation they must serve either four years of active duty or eight years in the National Guard or the reserves.
Army Reserves recruits go through four and a half years of training one weekend per month or two weeks per year. Depending on the route they take after training, they will most likely become sergeants, under command of officers from the ROTC.
Yet Grothaus said he would never trade the bonds he made as an Army Reserve for the title of an officer. He calls himself a “doer” of the Army rather than a leader, and is happy with his role.
And he smiles from ear to ear when reminiscing about the person who he was closest to in basic training, his bunkmate and “battle buddy” Max Gross.
“Every time we went to formation he would always be to my left,” he said. “Every time we went and had a meal he would always be the person behind me. Every time we did any kind of training he was always my battle buddy. We shot next to each other; we stuck each other with IVs.”
His challenge now is in finding new friends who can share those same memories.
Grothaus needs two more signatures to establish an official club. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.