After 7 years, Iraq War veteran earns college diploma

Adriana Gallardo-Martinez graduates from Cal State Long Beach with a Political Science degree and a one year tour of duty in Iraq.
Adriana Gallardo-Martinez graduates from Cal State Long Beach with a Political Science degree and a one year tour of duty in Iraq.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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Sacrifice and hardship are behind many of the degrees awarded this graduation season. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez talked with a military veteran about the struggles she faced on her way to graduation day.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Twenty-five-year-old Adriana Gallardo-Martinez proudly wears the uniform of the day: a black cap and gown for Cal State Long Beach’s graduation. It’s a special day.

Adriana Gallardo-Martinez: I got a facial and I got my hair done and made sure I had something to eat and got dressed up.

Guzman-Lopez: She’s the first in her Mexican immigrant family to earn a college degree. Because of interruptions, it’s taken her seven years.

Gallardo-Martinez: I had enlisted in the Army Reserves in my senior year in high school. And my basic training, my AIT, wasn’t until the spring of my freshman year, so I wasn’t here for my spring semester.

Guzman-Lopez: Military service, including a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq five years ago, pulled her from her studies five times.

Gallardo-Martinez: I was in a transportation company, so we were in a lot of missions and convoys from northern Iraq to southern Iraq, all the way to Kuwait. Unfortunately we got attacked, ambushed, and all that stuff. It was painful to see people getting blown up and getting hit by IEDs.

Guzman-Lopez: She knew and admired the one person from her unit, a woman from American Samoa, who died during that tour.

Gallardo-Martinez: Her name was Sgt. Tina Time. And she was a female mechanic NCO – but unfortunately she lost her life two months before we came back home.

Guzman-Lopez: Like Gallardo-Martinez, Time was interested in computer science and political science and was a college student too.

Cal State Long Beach academic counselor Emmit Clark knows Gallardo-Martinez well. He recruited her from high school for the university’s engineering program.

Emmit Clark: When she came back from Iraq, she suffered an illness from Iraq. It was stomach problems and it was dealing with the stress of it all, her nerves. She even had to get over the medical issue and at the same time dealing with the engineering major, the ROTC, the Iraq, and family, and adjustments of coming back.

Guzman-Lopez: Adriana Gallardo-Martinez says it’s part of what she signed up for when she enlisted in the Army Reserve. But that doesn’t make the transition any easier.

Gallardo-Martinez: And coming back to work, dealing with paying for stuff, you have to pay rent and buy books, you have all these expenses that when you’re in combat you don’t deal with. All you do is your job.

Guzman-Lopez: She says her family in Bakersfield and her college friends in Long Beach provided a lot of the support she’s needed to finish her degree. She switched majors. She’s earning her Bachelor’s degree in political science. And just days ago she began a job in the U.S. Defense Department’s contracting agency.

Gallardo-Martinez: I’m hoping someday I’ll be working for the Department of State, maybe a foreign officer. I’m very interested in foreign policy. Maybe eventually run into office someday, but right now I’m mainly focused in working in policy that, for health care and immigration reform, so that’s definitely things I see in my future.

Guzman-Lopez: The interruptions to civilian life may not be over. Gallardo- Martinez has re-enlisted for another eight years in the military. On this day though, all she has to worry about is turning the tassel on her cap.

Gallardo-Martinez: I don’t know where I have to line up. I think I’ll find it, hopefully my family’s already seated. I can’t wait. I’m really excited.

[Music: "Pomp and Circumstance"]

Guzman-Lopez: College of Liberal Arts Dean Gerry Riposa welcomes several thousand students, their families and friends to the second of Cal State Long Beach’s three graduation ceremonies.

Gerry Riposa: Today the college of liberal arts, enjoined by the university, will dedicate this commencement to all of our men and women in military service.

Guzman-Lopez: College officials expect many more graduates who’ve lived through the kind of experiences Sergeant Adriana Gallardo-Martinez has. New GI benefits that start in the fall will bring public college degrees within closer reach of military veterans.