Education and service: three graduating veterans share their stories

Harjot Singh, left, Paul Areyan, center, and Joe Martinez Jr., right, pose for a portrait in front of the university fountain. The veteran students will graduate this fall from the nursing program. (Adam Ricardo Solis/The Collegian)

Three graduating veteran students from the Fresno State nursing program come from different backgrounds and branches of the military but have a united belief in brotherhood through service.

Harjot Singh, Joe Martinez Jr. and Paul Areyan will graduate together as a cohort of veterans from the nursing program in fall 2021.

In celebration of Veterans Day, The Collegian interviewed these veterans, who shared their experiences in the nursing program as well as their time in service. 

Harjot Singh


Harjot Singh poses for a portrait across the Kennel Bookstore. Singh said he enjoys the feeling of helping others. (Melina Kazanjian/The Collegian)

Harjot Singh, 23, grew up in the northern region of India in a small town in the state of Punjab and moved to the United States at 12 years old.

“It was a bit of culture shock. I mean, I grew up watching English movies and listening to rap… 90’s rap [was] pretty much popular around the world, so I kind of knew about the Western culture as well,” Singh said.

Although Singh adapted to the culture and language quickly, he found it important to stay close to his roots. At home, Singh exclusively speaks Punjabi, a language he hopes to pass down to his children.

Singh attended Central High School, where he graduated as valedictorian and went on to work a number of jobs ranging from a raisin worker to a gas station attendant.

By graduation, Singh knew he wanted to serve in the military due to his family’s history, as well as seeing it as an opportunity to give back to the country.

“I always wanted to continue that tradition of serving. So, I mean, this country has given us a lot of opportunities, and I just wanted to give back. So I ended up joining at the age of 17 in high school,” Singh said. 

As a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, Singh served as a petroleum supply specialist. Despite his Military Occupation Specialty (MOS), Singh noted that most of the time – especially when he was a private – he would be assigned random tasks to fill a spot when needed.

“It doesn’t really matter what MOS specific you are because joining as enlisted as a new soldier — when I was a private — the higher-ups would just tell you or put you in wherever they need you, so you’re just kind of, like, filling a spot,” he said.

Singh joined the reserves in part to pursue higher education and graduate as a nurse while serving his six-year contract. Nursing provided financial stability alongside the ability to help care for community members in a much more personal manner. 

“I would say I grew up learning about selfless service… that feeling of helping people, really. I enjoy doing it, so that’s why I considered nursing. I like the medical perspective, like being a doctor and all that, but nurses are the one[s] who spend most time with the patients,” Singh said.

The pandemic proved to be difficult for Singh as he felt there was a disconnect from being behind a computer monitor as opposed to in-person learning.

At home, he constantly battled with the temptation to slack off due to laziness or lack of motivation. Family distractions also proved difficult to manage, with family members occasionally popping into his room during class.

Back at the university Singh felt productive with his time in the nursing program, being able to interact with professors as well as being able to do homework free of distractions.

“I will say I’m more productive being on campus when it comes to doing any homework, if it’s learning or anything like that. I’ll be at home if I’m just reading or something. But if I’m doing any practical work like writing an essay, I would rather be here because in my mind, I’m like, ‘I’m not leaving [or] going home,’” Singh said.

Following graduation, he plans to complete the National Council Licensure Examination to receive his Registered Nurse License (RN) to practice nursing locally at the Veterans Administration Hospital.

“This is where I plan to live. And I love this country… I mean, home is where you grew up, but home is also where you live, and [this] country has given me a lot and being in the military just automatically happened, as well,” Singh said.

Paul Areyan


Paul Areyan poses for a portrait. Areyan said his time as a combat medic helped his decision to pursue nursing. (Melina Kazanjian/The Collegian)

Paul Areyan, 27, was born in Los Angeles, and much of his childhood was spent moving throughout the Los Angeles region.

In high school Areyan said he felt directionless, often finding himself floating in the direction the wind blew him. Shortly after graduating high school at the age of 18, Areyan joined the military.

“I was never interested in the military. I kind of just, like, floated over there. I didn’t really have any direction in high school, and so it kind of just happened,” Areyan said. “And then the free pen was pretty enticing, so I couldn’t turn that down.” 

Initially he planned to go to a local community college but found the path to enter the Army more ideal.

“The path of least resistance [was] to go into the Army because the recruiter pretty much… did everything to get me in versus [going] to college,” Areyan said.

He first wanted to join the Army to do intelligence work, however, none of those jobs were available at the time, so he decided to join as a combat medic instead. 

He went on to serve in the Army for four years as a combat medic/healthcare specialist. 

That offered him the opportunity to care for fellow soldiers in a more intimate manner. 

“The rapport that I could build with soldiers… I like caring for people. I like learning about [it] because it was more science-based. I do enjoy science. Yeah, caring for people and the knowledge required to do it,” Areyan said.

He was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but found himself deployed to Afghanistan once. Areyan said he disliked going to Afghanistan and would not recommend others travel there either. 

With two months left in his contract, Areyan was able to leave the military early to pursue higher education at Fresno City College, eventually transferring to Fresno State and enrolling in the nursing program.

He decided to join the nursing program due to his prior experience as a combat medic in the 3rd battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment. During one deployment overseas, Areyan was able to work at a clinic for several months, which he greatly enjoyed.

“I did get an opportunity to work in a clinic for a few months, and I really enjoyed my clinical experience because I got to see more because combat medicine is like it’s more straightforward,” Areyan said. 

“I’m very interested in physiology and so working in a clinical environment and administering stuff like shots and other nursing-like interventions, I enjoyed it. And the rapport I had with my soldiers. I enjoyed it. So that motivated me to like, ‘Oh, I think I would like nursing,’” Areyan said.

He disliked the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) rotations he experienced as they did not provide him with the personal interaction with the patient that he wished to develop over the course of their treatment.

Similar to Singh, the COVID-19 pandemic affected Areyan’s education as he found himself more easily distracted at home and unable to fully absorb the information during lectures.

Prior to the pandemic, Areyan’s son was born. Areyan noted the timing couldn’t have been better, as staying at home allowed him to care for his son. The experience of raising a child also relieved a bit of stress.

“Having a kid would have changed how well I could do academically, but… since the pandemic happened, it probably made being a parent slightly easier because I got to stay home,” Areyan said.

He plans to later on move to the Bay Area to further his education in nursing as well as provide a safer, healthier living environment for his family.

“I feel like if I want to live somewhere where the air doesn’t stain your teeth, then I should have that. I can afford that and why not give that to my kid also. My wife wants to start school somewhere around that area… So, a cleaner air and lower temperatures would let her walk around and enjoy being outside versus here,” Areyan said.

Joe Martinez Jr.


Joe Martinez Jr. poses for a portrait in front of the fountain. He said he is proud of the time he was in service. (Adam Ricardo Solis/The Collegian)

Joe Martinez Jr., father, son and veteran, went straight from Hoover High in 2010 to the Navy. After completing his service in 2016, he began attending Fresno State to major in nursing.

Martinez said joining the Navy directly after high school helped him become an adult quickly.

“I didn’t have any time to party and figure it out. I kind of got thrown into it,” Martinez said. “Having to learn how to pay bills and do everything, it was chaotic at first but [I quickly learned] it.” 

Growing up, Martinez knew he wanted to serve his country because it was a tradition passed down from his grandfather and father.

“It’s an honor to say I’m a veteran and that I served this country. I’ve been raised super patriotic,” Martinez said.

During his time in the Navy, Martinez became a military police sentry and watch commander. Through these responsibilities, he made sure those under his command were on watch and protecting the base during 12-hour night shifts.

With his experiences, Martinez said he hopes to change a family tradition of passing on the flag of a loved one who was in the service, starting off with his son. 

Although proud of his heritage and his family’s service, Martinez said he is not looking forward to the day he receives his grandfather’s and father’s flags. He plans on changing his previous family tradition to one where his child will have the opportunity to become a Fresno State Bulldog like Martinez and his wife.

“Now I’m going to give him those options other than the ones I had, which were ‘stay on this path’. So I’m going to give him multiple paths,” Martinez said. “I swap it out to have our degrees up instead of the flags.”

Martinez said he recognizes the current divide in politics throughout the country, and that, regardless of people’s mindsets, he still sees them as part of the country he protects.

“I love this country despite any kind of politics, no matter what side you’re on. I don’t care what side you’re on, you’re still part of my country, so I love you,” he said.

Originally wanting to become a pharmacist, Martinez now wants to become involved in step-down services, which is the medical care that takes place between the intensive care units and the surgical wards. 

Even though Martinez is no longer in the Navy, he continues to want to help those in need in any way he can.

He said his family also had a large role to play in the decision to go into the medical field.

“I always wanted to go into health because my grandfather was a chiropractor, my great-grandfather was a physician and my great-great-grandfather was a physician, so we’ve always had [a] health background in the family,” Martinez said.

After experiencing online learning as a father and a full-time student, Martinez offered support for any other students going through a rough time with life or school.

“If I can do it, you can,” Martinez said. “With a kid, and working, and school, and the nursing program, if I can get it done you definitely can.”

Written by Edward Lopez and Adam Ricardo Solis

Correction: Nov. 10, 2021

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the three students will graduate in spring 2022. In actuality, they will graduate in fall 2021. It was also stated that Paul Areyan was deployed to Afghanistan “on multiple occasions.” Areyan was only deployed to Afghanistan once.

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