A trip from the Middle East to Athens costs thousands of dollars. But for one soldier, a step outside his barracks is all it takes to remind him of his alma mater.
Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi recently sent 2nd Lt. Bryan Andrews an Ohio Bobcats flag.
Now, it’s flying over a U.S. army base in Afghanistan.
Andrews emailed Lombardi a picture of the flag after he sent it up the flagpole. Lombardi tweeted the picture, where it was retweeted 552 times and favorited nearly 1,000 times.
The U.S. Army deployed Andrews shortly after he graduated from OU in 2013 with a degree in communication studies. He is currently “assisting in the retrograde operations in Afghanistan.”
Lombardi sent the flag after Andrews emailed him saying he would like to see the green and white flying overseas. Lombardi said the decision to mail the flag was “a no brainer,” adding he’ll do “anything (he) can for our troops to remind them of home.”
But Andrews said a flag is far from the only thing the university gave him.
“I can close my eyes 6,000 miles away and I can come to complete peace when I think about the memories Athens gave me,” Andrews said, in an email. “I can smile, cry and laugh when I think about a number of people. And I now have complete confidence I will never look bad in green, white and black.”
Andrews enlisted in OU’s Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in 2013 purely to help pay for his education, he said, adding he isn’t particularly proud of that fact. But he is proud of his decision to enlist.
There are currently 149 “fully-participating cadets” enrolled in OU’s ROTC program, said John Hansen, the recruiting operation officer for ROTC.
“It taught me leadership, confidence, challenged me in all aspects and was a cornerstone to what I am doing today in Afghanistan,” Andrews said of his time in ROTC.
But the life skills Andrews learned in school didn’t just come from ROTC, he said.
He was also involved with Good Works Inc, a Christian organization in Athens County that provides shelter for homeless individuals in Southeastern Ohio and helps at-risk youth, among other initiatives.
“The people skills and love of another human that I have observed and been taught through both ROTC and Good Works has been instrumental in my walk through the desert,” Andrews said. He also cited God as a major factor contributing to his current success, saying God taught him “how to love,” and connected him with “wonderful people.”
OU taught Andrews how diverse the world is, and showed him the importance of pushing past petty differences to strike at the core of human relationships, he said. He is trying to apply these principles to his daily life as a Platoon Leader in Afghanistan.
“We must get past the barriers we devise as humans for shortcuts for our brains, and filter through to the foundational piece in everyone’s body; the heart,” Andrews said. “OU taught me to love regardless of what filters and barriers society tells us to emplace.”
Andrews did want to emphasize the importance of getting out of the “OU bubble.” He advised current students to go hiking at least once a month, and become involved with members of the Athens community outside of the university.
“We have to be able to answer questions about Athens the city, not just Athens the college town,” Andrews said.