Combat training gives students a glimpse of soldier life

When Kappa Sigma member Matt Moore walked into a third-floor room of the Marvin Center on Sunday, seven sergeants were there to scream in his face.

Get into formation. Sit down. Stand up.

Then the sophomore, who was referred to only as No. 044 during the four-hour training, was assigned to a platoon with about 20 of his fraternity brothers. As sergeants barked more orders at them, the men would be forced to do dozens of push-ups if any members of the group missed directions.

“Some people were a little freaked out at first,” Moore said. “Just figuring out how to drink out of your canteen so quickly was tough.”

About 70 students were part of a first-time program called the Ribbon Project, which allows participants – in particular, Greek life members – to have a small glimpse of combat training in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Everything here is theatrics, but it’s all for a purpose,” said Sgt. Michael Ruybal, the University’s veteran services coordinator who helped coordinate the drill.

GW’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs hosted the program with Kappa Sigma fraternity, which has raised more than $10,000 to boost awareness of veterans issues. Josh Eggler, the fraternity’s philanthropy chair, said they want to help college students understand what it’s like for former soldiers to return from a war zone.

“Sometimes people have a misconception of what a wounded soldier is,” Eggler, a sophomore, said. “The reality is that veterans can be wounded in multiple ways. They’re not just missing limbs. It’s [post-traumatic stress disorder] and traumatic brain injury. The term ‘injury’ can be defined in a lot of different ways.”

After the echoing shouts and fast-paced exercises, the seven sergeants talked about wanting to make names for themselves in the Armed Forces and the problems they faced when they returned home, from domestic troubles to adjusting to life back at school.

Ruybal, who served in the Army for more than a decade, said it’s important for the veterans to “share their stories on their own terms” and open a dialogue among students who can learn from their experiences.

“As they’re transitioning from one lifestyle that has 100 percent controlled them, their frame of mind, their thoughts, their everything, it’s important for them to be able to transition back into the civilian sector and be able to work within society,” he added.

His office originally assembled the Ribbon Project to bridge faculty with student veterans, but he decided to refocus the program toward Greek chapters because he said he saw “parallels” between their community and the military culture.

“If you look at the concept of Greek life, it’s a brotherhood or a sisterhood. It’s being able to count on your friends from the day you decided to join, all the way to graduation. These are people you build extreme bonds with. When you compare that to military culture, it’s very similar,” he said. “The connection between the two is easy to make.”

As he ordered the fraternity brothers to drink from their canteens at lightning speed, Ruybal remembered a “scared, ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look,” on the participants’ faces, but after they experienced it, they had a “$10 million smile.”

Ruybal said he hopes that the event – which is the only one of its kind held at a college in the District – will be something other schools can start.

“We have a lot of plans to truly make it grow,” he said. “I think that in a handful of years, we’re gonna see The Ribbon Project at a lot of institutions across the nation. We’re going to see it in the civilian sector and in the private sector, and we get a lot of inquiries at the national level. Look for big things with it.”

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