Alfredo Lopez, a junior ROTC student at Westminster College, said he has always been Army-bound. And though he acknowledged the challenges that come with also being a full-time student, he said the experience has taught him discipline and provided him with a purpose.
Lopez came to Westminster after serving in the military for three years, at which point an army officer presented him with a scholarship to finish his undergraduate degree and then become an Army selection officer.
Balancing school work and training can be difficult at times, Lopez said, but the challenge of transitioning between mannerisms and social expectations in the military versus the classroom is particularly difficult.
For example, Lopez said he yells at his squad to direct them in a group field training. But when there's a disagreement in a group project for school, all members are expected to talk it out courteously.
Though the balance between military life and school work hasn't come without its difficulties, Lopez's friends said he was built for the Army lifestyle.
“I met Alfredo this year and I have never met anyone like him before,” said Dayon Goodman, Lopez's best friend and former roommate. “For him, having to deal with the Army while going to school at the same time amazes me. He is usually up later than me doing homework and then awake earlier than me handling more business. [He is] a true mogul in my eyes.”
Lopez spoke with The Forum about his experiences as a full-time student in the Army.
Q: What made you decide to join the Army?
A: When I first joined the military, I earned the title of a US Marine. After serving for three years, I was approached by an Army officer selection officer. He offered me a scholarship to finish my undergraduate and become a commissioned officer. I first said 'no.' There was no way I would inter-service transfer. After a few months and thinking about how it could help with my future career, I called the recruiter back. The offer was
still open and I took it. A few months later, I was a member of the Utah Army National Guard. I joined the Army in May 2016.
Q: Is it difficult being a student while being in the Army?
A: It's definitely a challenge. In the ROTC program, I had served as a platoon sergeant and was put in charge of overseeing 20 cadets. We have physical training three times a week at 5:45 a.m., a three-hour lab once a week and many extra activities such as doing color guard for sports events, cannon crew for the University of Utah football and other activities that come up throughout the semester. Then when I'm in school, I have to put great effort to using the time I have to get my assignments done and keep my grades up.
The biggest advantage I have is my wife. She helps me balance our schedules and keeps me on track on the things we have to do. We try to have a weekly planning session because her job also keeps her busy. Having clear communication with my wife and committing to my responsibilities has definitely helped me so far.
Q: What are some of your biggest takeaways from your experience in the Army?
A: The military has strengthened my mental strength. It has increased my ability to handle a large amount of stress and still be able to move forward. I also enjoy being very active. Not only do I complete my required workouts, but I also work out on my own to successfully pass the physical training exams.
It has also helped me be a better member of the community. I try to help with service projects that come up and I often pick up trash. A long time ago, my drill instructor taught me that if you walk past a piece of trash and don't pick it up, it is a sign of laziness. Now, every time I see trash on the floor anywhere I always try to pick it up because his words just come flooding back and I definitely don't want to be seen as lazy.
Being part of something bigger than myself is amazing. Even though my direct actions don't bring much change, it still feels good knowing I did my part. Also, it is a privilege to wear the uniform that so many great people before me have worn.