Focus profiles five grads who joined the armed forces

Robert Cybulski ’00

U.S. Army Capt. Robert Cybulski ’00 is currently working toward a doctorate in microbiology at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md. But nine years ago, he was confronted with the question of how to pay for his Brown education, and he chose to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Providence College for its full scholarship.

“Originally, I joined because I needed the money to go to Brown,” he said. But, he added, “I quickly came to enjoy the program and the folks there.”

Though Cybulski’s long-term goal was to work in research science, “I enjoyed the stuff I had been doing in ROTC and I admired the instructors I had there.” He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant upon graduating with a degree in biochemistry in 2000.

He spent the next four years serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, leading a medical platoon and coordinating logistics for his infantry brigade. He was deployed to Afghanistan for six months in 2002, and he spent eight months in Iraq from the summer of 2003 through the spring of 2004.

“It was interesting,” he said, chuckling. “Long, hot.”

In Afghanistan, Cybulski was based at Kandahar Airfield, coordinating the logistics for his brigade as it hunted down pockets of Taliban fighters. In Iraq, “we were there doing the same kind of thing,” stationed outside Fallujah to fight insurgents and protect a major highway. There, he said, he was responsible for the logistics of a 300-person base, as well as setting up job recruitment for local Iraqis to work at the base.

“That was probably even more interesting and more frustrating and more tiring than Afghan-istan,” he said, since in Afghanistan they had been largely isolated from the population, while in Fallujah they were surrounded by often-hostile Iraqis.

“It’s a lot more complex than people at home realize, and it’s a lot more complex than our training allows for” in many ways, especially using soldiers trained only in combat to rebuild a shattered country, Cybulski said.

He said he appreciated having two complimentary educations, a liberal arts one at Brown and a military one at ROTC.

“Both of them were very intellectually stimulating,” Cybulski said, noting especially the “broadening of horizons” he experienced at Brown, which he said he appreciated once he entered the “more insular” world of the military.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity I had at Brown … (it) set me up well for the next four years,” he said.

Deborah Kuklis ’88

Deborah Kuklis ’88 spent one year at Brown before she ran out of money.

“I was in a situation where I really wanted to go to Brown, but I didn’t really have any financial options,” she said.

So she joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, taking advantage of the Army’s offer to pay full tuition and expenses for her remaining three years. Double-concentrating in engineering and history of art and architecture, she graduated in 1988 and spent four years on active duty in the Army, stationed as a communications officer with a tactical division in Hawaii.

Having reached the rank of captain and fulfilled her active duty obligation, Kuklis entered the Individual Ready Reserve in 1992. Eleven years later, she was activated to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Kuklis said she was “a little freaked out,” since she had not put on a uniform or trained in over a decade. But after one month of refresher training she was deployed to Special Operations Command Central, which is responsible for U.S. military special operations units operating in 22 nations, mostly in the Middle East.

“My job was to plan for strategic communications for Special Operations units in Afghanistan or Iraq,” Kuklis said, and she traveled to those countries as well as to other nations in the region over the course of her deployment.

Though there was “inherent danger in going” to Afghanistan, she said, she was far more worried about traveling into Iraq, which “was not safe at all.” Her plane was shot at as it came into Baghdad International Airport. She experienced being mortared by insurgents almost every night and riding at high speeds through the streets of Baghdad crammed into the back of a Humvee hoping to avoid being bombed.

“It’s taken me about a year to transition back,” she said, having returned to civilian life in 2004. She now works for a software company in New York City.

Kuklis said her education at Brown made her “a much more open thinker … including having tolerance for other people,” which she valued during her military career. “I think people who went to Brown did really well in the military,” she said.

“I got a lot out of it,” she said. But she was quick to note, “I’m definitely glad to be done.”

Anonymous ’01

He graduated from Brown in 2001 with a double concentration in philosophy and economics, but found himself saddled with debt and unsure of what he wanted to do with his life.

“I wasn’t interested in any of the job options I had coming out of Brown and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he wrote in an e-mail from Baghdad, asking not to be identified by name. “Plus, I had loads of debt in student loans, and the Army offered to pay them off in three years.”

He joined the Army in August 2001, but unlike many Brown graduates in military service, he chose to enlist rather than become an officer. “I thought it would be a bit presumptuous of me to come in as an officer right away and be in charge of soldiers who had more time and experience than I had.” As an enlisted soldier, the Army would give him more flexibility about choosing a specialization and would pay off his student loans, he said.

Still, he said, when he tells people where he went to school they often ask why he enlisted. “I met a guy from Rhode Island the other day and I told him I went to school in R.I. He asked if I went to (the University of Rhode Island), and I said Brown. He said, ‘What are you doing here? Brown kids don’t come over here,’ ” he wrote.

He studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., but spent most of his time since “sitting around” a posting in the United States, “wasting my language skills and doing nothing worthwhile,” he said. He blamed inefficient Army management, writing it was “disheartening” to have his language skills wasted while at the same time reading countless media reports bemoaning the lack of Americans fluent in Arabic in military service.

But he described the Army as an eye-opening experience that has given him a chance to meet “extremely bright and talented people in the U.S. who don’t even have a chance to go to college, much less an elite rich-kid school like Brown,” he wrote.

He was deployed to Baghdad about three months ago and said the conditions at his posting are “comfortable.” But he said he does not plan to remain in the Army past his obligation, and wants to go to graduate school once he is discharged.

“I’m grateful at having the opportunity to balance my Brown liberalism with the Army’s conservatism,” he wrote. “In the end, liberalism wins.”

Dimitrios Gavriel ’97

Dimitrios Gavriel’s ’97 path took him from College Hill to Iraq and then to Arlington National Cemetery, where he was buried Dec. 2, 2004. A lance corporal in the United States Marine Corps, he was killed in Fallujah on Nov. 11.

Coming to Brown from Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H., Gavriel double-concentrated in neuroscience and organizational behavior and management, according to the Liber Brunensis. He was on the wrestling team and was a member of Delta Tau.

After graduating in 1997 he began working as an analyst for several Wall Street investment firms. But on Sept. 11, 2001, he lost several friends at the World Trade Center in New York City, including Paul Sloan ’97 and Raymond Rocha ’95, two of his Delta Tau brothers, according to the Brown Alumni Monthly. He began to consider joining the military more and more strongly, over the objections of his friends and family. After he was laid off in 2002, he decided to join the Marines.

“He knew there was more to life than getting a job and making a living,” his father Chris told the Boston Globe.

According to BAM, the first time Gavriel tried to join the Marines, he was turned down because of his age and weight. He began a strict exercise routine and lost 40 pounds, eventually convincing the Marines to allow him to enlist in November 2003. He chose not to attend the Marines’ Officer Candidates School as his college degree entitled him to, but became an enlisted soldier.

He was deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Marine Division in July 2004 as a rifleman, though he told his family he worked behind a desk in intelligence so they would not worry, according to BAM. He was injured by shrapnel a week before he was killed during the battle in Fallujah, but he returned to duty anyway.

Gavriel was “a heavy-duty person, a deep thinker,” his mother, Penelope, told BAM. “He liked literature and poetry. He spoke not much, but his words spoke volumes.”

Laura Klein ’89

Maj. Laura Klein ’89 is now a “JAG,” a judge advocate, in the U.S. Army, two decades after she chose to attend Brown over the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I can’t quite recall why I was so intent on serving, but in large part, I wanted to travel and ‘see the world.’ Had I not joined the service, I would likely have joined the Peace Corps or attempted to join the foreign service,” she wrote in an e-mail from her current posting in Mosul, Iraq, where she is the deputy staff judge advocate for Task Force Freedom, the U.S. headquarters in Northern Iraq.

“What drew me to the military was the team concept. … The military is very much a team sport,” she added.

At Brown she double-concentrated in history of art and architecture and anthropology, and in her time on campus played softball, rowed crew, worked as a technical assistant and director in student theater, worked in the Blue Room and Ratty, was a resident counselor and worked for The Herald as a photographer.

“My Brown education prepared me to be an officer and serves as the foundation for the legal advice I provide to commanders on difficult issues of international law and criminal law – tremendously demanding and challenging work,” she wrote.

At Brown, Klein also participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at Providence College and after graduation was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and served as a platoon leader near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea. She briefly served stateside before being deployed to Somalia for a year in the early 1990s and then decided to attend law school at Louisiana State University.

Since becoming a JAG, Klein has traveled widely in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. In 2003 she was deployed to Kirkuk in Iraq, where she “helped review the numerous property claims issues created by the former regime’s forcible eviction and movement of Kurds and southern Arabs,” she wrote. In 2004, she was posted to Afghanistan and afterward went to Mosul, her current posting, helping to set up local courts and dealing with legal issues regarding local Iraqis and U.S. soldiers.

“I’m approaching 15 years in the service – I’ve found my military experience to be pretty awesome,” Klein wrote. “At this juncture, it’s a career.”