Oren Struck breaks the college mold

<em>Photo submitted</em>
Photo submitted

Meet Oren Struck. He hails from St. Peter, MN, and plans on majoring in management. He participates in intramural sports, likes to work out and enjoys photography, fishing and camping. He also spent almost an entire year in Iraq fighting with the United States Army. He is not your average Gustavus sophomore.

Oren became involved in the military after choosing to come to Gustavus. “I really liked the overall atmosphere when I visited … [and] after visiting, I realized I really wanted to come to school here, but the cost of attending [Gustavus] is ungodly expensive,” said Oren.

Fortunately, Oren found a way to attend school and serve his country. “Soon after I visited, an Army recruiter happened to come to my house. I listened to what he had to say, and I guess I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to serve my country [in] a time of war. All the money for college was also a great incentive.”

His family was supportive of his decision, as his father is a Vietnam War veteran. “After joining, I was the fourth generation on my dad’s side to serve in the military,” said Oren.

Oren started school at Gustavus in the fall of 2007, but because of his involvement with the Army, he was called to duty in the middle of the semester. He finished an entire semester’s worth of coursework before leaving for training at the end of November.

After spending two months training in North Carolina, Oren flew to the Iraq on February 2, 2008. He left Iraq at the beginning of November 2008, spending about nine months there total.

“I was at a small, isolated camp in the middle of nowhere about 80 miles north of Baghdad. The nearest town was called Muqdadiyah. We were maybe 15 or 20 miles from the Iranian border. My four-man team was fortunate enough to live in an underground bunker, so we were relatively safe from incoming rocket attacks. Being underground also kept the temperatures cooler,” said Oren.

While in Iraq, “on a typical day, I would wake up around 5:00 a.m.—that’s when the temperature was the coolest—to go for about a three mile run. I’d shower after I ran, grab breakfast and then head out to our vehicles to get them ready for our mission that day,” said Oren.

Waking up that early wasn’t the only difference for Oren. “We would usually leave on our missions between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m., depending on the type of mission and the area where we were going. Some days we would be back for lunch; other days we would just bring snacks along to eat, or the Iraqi people would often feed us lunch,” said Oren. “Depending on our schedule, we would either go back out to continue our mission after lunch or we would basically be free to prepare for the next day’s mission.

”Of course, it wasn’t all just work for the soldiers. “After I was done writing up the report from our mission, I would weight lift in the afternoon or evening, depending on if I had any other work I needed to complete,” said Oren. “We also filled our free time with sipping non-alcoholic beers around a campfire, reading, playing beach volleyball nowhere near a beach, playing catch with a baseball or football, playing darts, going out and shooting all of our weapons at the range, playing cribbage, etc.”

Oren also took an online college course and an online language course while in Iraq.

Now that Oren is back, he’s had time to readjust to a slower-paced life.

“It is great to be back. I really missed just being a ‘normal’ college-aged kid,” said Oren. “I really came to appreciate all of the everyday luxuries most people take for granted, such as running water, bearable weather, being able to talk or hang out with friends whenever you want, an everyday sense of safety, the immense freedom that Americans enjoy and even just being able to choose what clothes you want to wear.”

His experiences in Iraq helped shape who he is today and influence his everyday life. “I feel like I matured quite a bit during my time in Iraq. You can really learn a lot about yourself when put in treacherous situations, and you realize that you can make vital decisions in times of chaos,” said Oren.

His days in Iraq are not over, though. “I was just given the option of going back to Iraq next February [2010] or waiting until 2011 and going to Afghanistan,” said Oren. “I’m still trying to decide which route I’m going to take.”

Back on the Gustavus campus, Oren has returned to old hobbies. He spends his time lifting weights, watching The Office and going on midnight runs with his friend, Junior Communication Arts/Literature Teaching Major Kevin Matuseski.

“The best thing about Oren is his care for other people. I think soldiers in the military can be stereotyped as ‘hard’ individuals who are just trained to do their duty. By all means Oren will follow orders, but he cares first and foremost about the people around him: his friends and family,” said Matuseski. “While he was in Iraq, I would get Facebook messages from him asking me how my life was going. While he was being surrounded by bombs and gunfire, he made sure to ask me about how my job was going at the YMCA. That’s the kind of care you wouldn’t get from many other human beings.”

Oren is known and ‘ppreciated for his caring personality and his up-for-anything attitude. “He goes out of [his] way to help you with whatever you need, no matter what it is,” said Sophomore Health Education and Physical Education Major Andy Sharp.

Oren stays involved in community both on- and off-campus.

He runs a landscaping business with a fellow Gustavus student, Junior Geography and Management Major Jordan Smith. “You may see us embellishing the properties of various homeowners within the St. Peter and Mankato area anywhere between the end of March throughout October,” said Oren.

“Oren seems to find a way to make anything and everything he does fun for him and the people around him,” said Smith. “He works harder than anyone I know and succeeds in all that he does. [He went] to Iraq with the U.S. Army, while still continuing his education, working and still finding plenty of social time. He knows how to manage his time well. … He always strives to get the most out of life.”

He also helps out at his parents’ place of business, the Traverse de Sioux Garden Center, whenever he has the time.

He’s not your typical Gustie, and that’s exactly what makes him stand out.