Far from the hot desert, Kenyon Ralph, who spent seven years as a Marine Corps reservists, is now honing his skills as a computer engineering student at UCSD.
“I love it,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s hard, it’s brutal.”
As a non-commissioned veteran, his education is only partially covered by the GI Bill. He’s making up the remainder with student loans, working on campus and with the generosity of La Jollans Pat and Bob Whalen.
Ralph received the Pat and Bob Whalen Endowed Military Transfer Scholarship, which provides a $2,000 award.
“There’s no finer group of individuals than the military,” said Bob Whalen, a retired aerospace company president. “It’s an opportunity to help some kids, particularly the ones coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to get an education.”
This is the first scholarship at UCSD for military transfers. The Whalens have set up similar scholarships at other universities.
“You can do anything with an education,” said Pat Whalen, who serves on the university’s scholarship board. “No one can take that away from you.”
Ralph said he was extremely appreciative for the Whalen’s support and especially of veterans: “I hope they continue to support veterans here, it’s great of them and important.”
Ralph, who now lives in Del Mar, arrived in Kuwait two days before the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. For the next three months, he crisscrossed southern Iraq as a radio field operator in the Marine Corps Reserves.
He returned for an eight-month tour in 2004, setting up computers and satellite Internet connections for the military base in Ramadi, the capitol of Al Anbar Province.
“It was long periods of boredom with very short peaks of high activity,” Ralph said. “But it was very dangerous all the time, even if you were on the base, because there were rocket and mortar attacks, IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
Since coming to UCSD in 2007, Ralph helped found the university’s first Student Veterans Organization, which works on improving student life for veterans, such as streamlining the process for applying for GI benefits, Ralph said.
The students were successful in lobbying for early registration for veterans, which helps speed up benefits processing at Veterans Affairs.
In between training and tours, he took community college classes.