A student and two professors discuss military service

Brandon Zeris, Copy Editor

Imagine traveling to a foreign land where some inhabitants have set a goal to kill you. Some Pitt-Johnstown veterans have experienced this feeling firsthand and others continue to help injured servicemen and women return to civilian life.

Writing instructor Cian Yates said he was an Army Green Beret and won a soldier-of-the-year award for the 10th Special Forces group.

He said he spent a lot of his time in Europe, as his unit directed a lot of their attention toward the Soviet Union.

“We spent a lot of time training people, foreign nationals. We taught them the basics like how to shoot a gun and how to defend themselves,” he said.

He said he also trained cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Yates said he went through specialized insertion training to improve his skills.

“I learned Polish. I learned how to rappel off mountains and from helicopters. I also survived a helicopter crash.”

Yates said the psychological and philosophical adjustments were the toughest part of joining the military. Despite that, he said he would serve again. Yates said his favorite part of serving was fellow soldiers’ integrity.

“I think about the guys over there every day. If I could go back today, I would.”

Marketing major Brian Gindlesperger is familiar with combat. Gindlesperger was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in combat in Iraq.

“I was in Iraq in Fall 2004, during one of the last major battles in Falluja.

“We were on a patrol, and we drove past a pile of rocks. I turned back and it blew up. I was knocked out. My senses eventually came back. We were in a firefight that lasted about 45 minutes.”

He said he was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded by the enemy.

“Shrapnel shattered my right fibula, and I had some more shrapnel in other places.”

Pitt-Johnstown Director of the Engineering Technology Jerry Samples was also in the Army.

He said he served 26 years of active duty. He said he was a colonel and graduated with a Legion of Merit from West Point.

Samples was the Director of both the Mechanical Engineering Division and the Mechanical Engineering Research Center at West Point.

Samples said his favorite part of serving was working with people and helping them advance.

“It’s nice to see lieutenants from when I was a colonel to have advanced in their ranks and be colonels now. It’s nice to see them develop.”

He said he stays involved by participating in a Veteran Employment Transition Foundation’s program. The foundation helps veterans transition to civilian life.

He said he volunteers for Outdoor Odyssey gatherings to give answers about educational opportunities.

“It’s bad enough going back to school being older, it’s bad enough going back to school after serving, and it’s even worse going back after being hurt in combat,” he said.

“I don’t know if it helps, but it gives them something to base their decisions on.”

Gindlesperger also said he helps with the Outdoor Odyssey.

“My goal is to provide people with a living example, so they can see that it’s possible to come back and be successful.”