From Arms to Academics

By | November 09, 2012 | News (2)

There lies a fraternity on campus – fairly young though still growing – with members that thrive on serving the community and supporting each other, all while facing the challenges of adjusting to civilian life.

It is a service fraternity that consists of a special brand of students – those who are United States Armed Forces veterans.

With the assistance of the Student Veterans Organization, Fresno State student veterans established a chapter of Omega Delta Sigma, the national veterans fraternity, in order to “make a presence here for veterans,” said Enoc Perez, the fraternity’s president and a teaching credential student. “They’re always in your classes. They could be a fellow student.”

The California Alpha Chapter on campus is the state’s first chapter of ODS and the only one on the West Coast. The chapter was founded on Jan. 7, 2011 and was chartered on March 8 of last semester, according to the fraternity’s national website.

Perez, who served 10 years and two tours in Iraq in the United States Marine Corps, said the establishment of an Omega Delta Sigma chapter on campus was intended to assist student veterans such as himself ease into the transition of student and civilian life.

“When I first got to Fresno State, I didn’t have much of a direction,” Perez said. “There’s already that bond of just being veterans… when we come together through Omega Delta Sigma, we’re able to fortify that bond.”

The fraternity has 10 members on its governing board, Perez said.

“The first time I heard about the veterans fraternity, I was very disinterested,” said Anthony Graves, a member of the fraternity’s founding class.

“I had preconceptions about what a fraternity was, and what it could actually be to me.

“But once I had actually committed to doing it, it became something that I was very proud of just because we started creating an organization and the success of that is before your eyes of a place where all veterans can come together and support each other in our goals.”

Omega Delta Sigma accepts veterans who served in any branch of the armed forces, Perez said.

According to a Fresno State press release, approximately 350 veterans are enrolled through the university’s Veterans Services Office.

One of the fraternity’s long-term goals is to continue to expand its presence on campus and establishing Fresno State as a campus that veterans would want to attend.

“Having classes filled with younger adults, it was foreign to me,” said Brenden Alfheim, a fraternity member. “Being here and hearing stories and being around veterans who have been doing this that have already been in school and have gotten out. It gives me another sense of I could do this.”

For Kevin Piercy, the fraternity’s Sergeant-At-Arms and an Army veteran who served six years of active duty, ODS serves as “another family” that helped him ease into the transition of civilian and student life.

“I was very eager when I found out about this,” Piercy said. “It’s very hard for a veteran to integrate back into society.

“It was very difficult for me on my transition back. There’s just a feeling of disconnect with the average student. So when I found the veterans fraternity it was very helpful because it was people that I knew I could relate to that have shared similar experiences.

“Sometimes you just need to be able to talk about with people who’ve been there and who understand. It’s therapeutic and cathartic to speak with your fellow veterans about that kind of stuff.”

Veteran Devon Mathis, the fraternity’s vice president who was deployed to Iraq twice throughout 12 years of service, said the chance to pursue a higher education was one of the reasons he enlisted in the armed forces.

“One of the benefits of joining the military is that it’ll help pay for school,” Mathis said. “But when are you going to get to that point where you can actually use that benefit?

“I’ve got a picture of me pointing to a sign when I was getting on the bus for my first deployment that said, ‘Join the National Guard; it’ll help pay for college.’ I keep that picture above my desk at home to remind me that I went through all of this so I could get here.”

As a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Piercy said he views Nov. 11 in a different light.

“It’s nice to be honored for your service but that’s not – I think I speak for all veterans – what Veterans Day is for us,” Piercy said. “For us, Veterans Day is just another Memorial Day. It’s a day where we remember those that we lost. We’ve all lost friends here. It’s a day of mourning and a day of celebration. We celebrate the time we had with those that are not longer with us.”

Veterans helping veterans

Omega Delta Sigma will host its second annual veterans fundraiser at Groggs Traditional Irish Pub in Clovis (on the corner of Willow and Nees avenues). The event begins at 6 p.m.

Half of the proceeds will go to helping a local veteran homeless shelter. Last year, the fraternity donated its efforts to the Wounded Warrior Project.

The fraternity fulfills members’ needs to fulfill “that need to continue to serve our communities with or without the uniform,” Perez said.

“The community has a chance to come out and show their support to veterans in the community and we help out with that process,” Graves said.

In the past, the fraternity has helped send aid and care packages to units deployed overseas, Mathis said.

“As a veteran, getting a care package overseas is like Christmas,” Mathis said.

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