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(Top left) Mark Swanson. Air Force (Top middle) Chad Gilbuena, Army (Top right) Michael Bloom, Navy (Bottom left) Robert Cicchinelli, Navy Seabees (Bottom middle) Jordan Cody, U.S. Marine Corps (Bottom right) Karlton Brown, Army. (Daniel Avalos/The Collegian)

For veterans on campus, friendship goes a long way

By Daniel Gligich & Michael Ford

Having been in the military is a source of pride for Cody Sedaño.

He spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps and first served as part of an amphibious assault unit. When he realized he didn’t quite like the ocean, he became a translator for NATO units in Afghanistan between 2012 and 2013.

Sedaño, a senior at Fresno State, was honorably discharged in the late summer of 2014. Two days after that, he began taking classes at Fresno City College.

The Marine turned student would later turn policy-maker. Sedaño was elected to the State Center Community College District board of trustees as a FCC student trustee.

When he transferred to Fresno State, he continued his interest in student government, soon forming part of the Associated Students, Inc. He then founded the Veterans Caucus in Sacramento in 2015.

Sedaño, like other veterans who will be celebrated this year during Veterans Day events, credits his time in the military for shaping him into a responsible person finding a direction for his education. Like Sedaño, 300 other veterans now study at the university.

“I hadn’t been in education for four years so I knew I had to take remedial classes. I wanted to be five steps ahead of myself,” Sedaño said. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t confused – I am a very anxious person. I have really bad anxiety.”

Despite a few setbacks, Sedaño’s desire to help others continued. His involvement in student government gives him that platform, he said. His position in student government as senator spurred him to improve the experiences for veterans on campus.

“We all have different experiences and we’re all from different branches of the military but the one thing we have in common is that we are all going through these things,” Sedaño said. “And if there is one thing that we have, it is each other.”

He has worked on campus to help veterans with their school work, including covering printing fees and getting work stations at the Veterans Services Center in the McLane Hall annex.

“There is a lot more that I want to provide for veterans that they deserve, as much as I can give them. I will say in the same breath, I am very, very grateful for the contributions the administration has made for us,” Sedaño said.

Sedaño is not the only veteran on campus to come to the aide of former military men and women. Froylan Zavala, president of the Student Veterans Organization at Fresno State, is also a known contributor.

Zavala spent six years in the army as a gunner and sergeant between 2007 to 2013. He began at Fresno State in spring 2017. His studies focus on business with an emphasis in human resources.

The leadership skills that he developed in the military helped him manage people at his job as president of the Student Veterans Organization, he said.

He’ll often distribute office tasks so other student veterans who work with him can feel like part of a team.

“In the military, you would die for the person on your left and on your right. Whatever they need help with, I am behind every single one of them,” Zavala said.

And though the support for veterans may be available at Fresno State, some never intended to return to school. George Cardoso, president of the Omega Delta Sigma veterans fraternity, once believed he would work after finishing his Navy service.

Cardoso, 38, who is married and has two children, thought he would he would find a full-time job that could pay his bills. But then he began speaking to other local veterans.

“They said, ‘Use the GI Bill. You’re stupid if you don’t use it. They’re paying you to go to school.,’” Cardoso remembers. “I was like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t think about that.’”

He enrolled at College of the Sequoias in Visalia under the GI Bill. It wasn’t until he spoke to counselors there that Fresno State became a promising option for him.

“I didn’t think it was a possibility for myself, being that I’m a little bit older when I came out,” Cardoso said. “I have a mortgage and a family to support, but the GI Bill has been a saving grace. It’s opening up opportunities that otherwise never would have been afforded to me.”

Cardoso had served in active duty until 2011 as a logistics specialist in the Navy. He deployed four times, including a 12-month tour in the Middle East. He then transferred to the reserves, which he finished in 2015. The transition to civilian life was a major one.

“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Cardoso said. “Having served for 15 years, I’m used to the structure, lifestyle, the routine and being at a place at a given time and doing what you’ve got to do.”

For veterans like Cardoso, there often comes a stigma for being older than the most students. But some, like Cardoso, feel that they are more prepared emotionally and mentally for the challenges of school.

“We may be a little bit more on guard, if you will, on campus, but that doesn’t mean that we’re broken, that we can’t learn,” Cardoso said. “We just have a little more struggles that we deal with on an everyday basis.”

Cardoso is studying criminology with an emphasis in corrections. He is graduating in the spring and is considering entering the graduate program.

The fraternity Cardoso leads was established in 2011 from a group of 12 veteran students. The role of the organization is not that of the typical campus fraternity, but it is service oriented with volunteer work. Its goal is to promote veterans resources and camaraderie.

“We get each other,” Cardoso said. “We understand each other. We all speak the same language, no matter what branch we served in. So we feel more comfortable with each other.”