FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21
OKLAHOMA CITY— Oklahoma City University has welcomed many types of heroes to its campus over the years, but among the most recent heroes to come home to OCU are veterans of the war in Iraq.
Oklahoma City University Police Sgt. Fred Payne, an Army National Guard P.F.C., is completing his first few weeks back on the job since returning from a 10-month tour of duty in southern Iraq. Payne joined the National Guard in 2006 to continue a family tradition.
“Every man in my family was in the military and I wanted to join as well,” Payne said, explaining that he chose the National Guard in order to keep his full-time job at OCU.
Payne deployed with the 160th field artillery unit to conduct detainee operations and security missions. While in Iraq, Payne kept in close contact with his wife, Andrea; two children, Samuel, 6, and Ethan, 3; and his OCU family.
“OCU was there for my family while I was away. It’s really nice to have people support you in that way,” Payne said.
Payne was able to return home to Harrah last Christmas from training in Fort Bliss, Texas, thanks to Operation Holiday Homecoming, which many local organizations contributed to, including Oklahoma City University. The project brought National Guard troops home to Oklahoma to spend Christmas week with their families before deployment to Iraq in January.
Payne said his homecoming to OCU has been very welcoming.
“I’m getting lots of hugs, thank yous and people welcoming me back,” he said. “Everywhere I go on campus, I’ve got people shaking my hand. It’s very heartfelt. It makes you really feel like you’re back home.”
OCU criminal justice freshman Andrew Sarmiento-Espinosa had to put his college career on hold while on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. Espinosa joined the Marines upon his graduation from Anadarko High School in 2006. He left for basic training and planned to begin his studies at OCU in the spring of 2007. However, an injury and then a call to active duty put those plans on hold.
P.F.C. Sarmiento served in Iraq from July 2007 to February 2008 and made history with his unit in Iraq by becoming the first HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) battery in combat.
Sarmiento enrolled at OCU once he returned from Iraq and is attending the university on an American Indian Scholarship.
“A college education is important to survive in the world and I wanted to be one of the first in my family to get a college education, especially at a place like OCU,” Sarmiento said. “I love the military, but the Marine Corps will be there when I finish college.”
He continues his reserve duty while studying at OCU. Sarmiento’s fraternity brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha helped recognize him on Veteran’s Day this year.
Oklahoma City University Law Student Shea Bracken has made two last minute decisions that have had a major impact on his life. The first was joining the Marine Corps Reserves and the second was enrolling in law school. Sgt. Bracken signed up for the Marines when he graduated from Stillwater High School in 2002 and served until May 2008, including a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. Bracken served as a tow gunner in Iraq and worked to secure an area just outside Fallujah.
“It was a hot zone,” Bracken explained. “Things are better there now. We are improving things in Iraq.”
Bracken said he decided to attend law school after visiting a career fair. He also applied for a position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and will interview with the agency next year.
Bracken said his military and legal training contribute to many career options. He also is considering a career with the Marine JAG Corps.
Bracken serves on OCU’s Student Government Association and said everyone from his fellow student senators to his law professors have made a point of thanking him for his military service.
“Everyone here is very supportive,” he said.
Marine Reserve Sgt. and OCU Police Officer Blake Richardson joined the Marine Corps in 2003 in response to the 9-11 tragedy and to fulfill a lifelong goal of joining the service. A 2001 graduate of Okarche High School, he was in college at the time. Richardson deployed to Iraq in February 2004 and spent almost eight months in combat. Richardson carried out a variety of missions and logistical convoys in Iraq. He was discharged from the Marines in 2007 and several months later, began working for OCU’s police department.
“I like helping people and this is a job that allows me to do that,” Richardson explained. “I really enjoy OCU’s small community.”
The Marines recalled Richardson this year and he is currently serving in the reserves.
Oklahoma City University Associate Vice President for Administrative Services Liz Hedrick said support for veterans who are employees or students at OCU has always been high.
“We appreciate their service to our country and the sacrifices they have made for all of us,” she said. “OCU is a family and it’s important to us to support our veterans.”