Wayland campus offers military couple chance to meet goals

SAN ANTONIO – Robert and Martha Vela have seen the world, thanks to the U.S. Armed Forces. But while their military career brought travel and adventure, a college degree remained elusive as the couple moved regularly.

After settling in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio a few years ago, however, the couple was able to pull together their credits at Wayland Baptist University’s San Antonio campus and graduate in the summer of 2005.

“The rewarding part has been being able to move together and ... pursue our goals together. My lifetime goal was to get a degree, and ... I was able to accomplish my goals and serve my country at the same time,” said Martha, who hopes to pursue a master’s degree at Wayland and teach in the future.

The Velas are not unlike many students who enroll at Wayland each year. Wayland’s external campuses and cooperation with the military bases bring education within reach for many students. Besides San Antonio, Wayland also maintains a strong presence on military bases in Hawaii; Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska; Altus, Okla.; Sierra Vista and Phoenix, Ariz.; Albuquerque and Clovis, N.M.; Wichita Falls, Texas.

The couple’s story begins in 1989, when native Houstonian Martha first enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves just out of high school. Robert, originally from San Antonio, enlisted in 1990. Martha was attending Texas A&M University when her reserve unit got called up due to Operation Desert Storm. Soon, she was in Advanced Individual Training, where she met Robert.

“Everything changed after that,” Martha recalled, adding the couple soon married and she then enlisted for active duty. Her first assignment was to Neurenberg, Germany, though her new husband was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. Five months later, the Army moved Robert to Germany as well.

The couple lived in Germany for a few years, giving birth to their first child while overseas. The family then moved to Fort Bliss in El Paso, then to Fort Hood in Killeen. The family had a brief separation when Robert was deployed to Bosnia and Serbia for six months, then moved once more, this time to Fort Jackson, S.C. Their second child was born in South Carolina, and the third in Germany after the Velas moved once more.

Robert was deployed once more early in 2003 to Kuwait and Iraq, but soon was reassigned to the United States since their young son had special medical needs. The family moved to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in May 2003.

Throughout their marriage and Army careers, Martha said education was important but difficult with many moves.

“Through our careers, we’ve gone to many different schools,” she said. “We just went wherever we were.”

But it wasn’t until they arrived in San Antonio and found Wayland that they were able to pull together their various educational experiences and make the dream of a degree become a reality. They finished their Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education degrees in just under 18 months, graduating in June 2005.

Recently, the couple returned from additional Army training in South Carolina to become Army recruiters, selected from their group. Both are sergeants first class and will be serving as recruiters in San Antonio and South Texas.

Despite the difficulty in pinning down their initial degrees, both Robert and Martha have an interest in continuing their education. Now that they know they’ll be settling in the San Antonio area for awhile, she plans to return to Wayland for a master’s degree in education, hoping to become a high school teacher after retiring from the Army. Robert is considering a career in finance or banking but has also considered teaching.

Though the Army career can be trying, the Velas believe it also has many rewards.

“To me, the rewarding part has been being able to move together and also be able to pursue our goals together. My lifetime goal was to get a degree, and all I aimed for was my bachelor’s degree at the time. I was able to accomplish my goal and serve my country at the same time,” Martha said. “The difficult part has been the family separations… Every time we’ve gone on temporary duties it meant one of us was left as a single parent. It’s gone both ways for us.”

Robert agrees.

“The travel was definitely one of the rewards as well as my education from Wayland Baptist,” he said. “The moving was just part of the job, but we’ve enjoyed it as well. I was the first in my family to go to college, let alone to complete a degree, so that part was very important to us. Plus, it is a good example for our family, for our kids (now 3, 4 and 12) to look up at us and see that Mom and Dad did this through all that.”

The third generation in his family to serve in the military, Robert said he and Martha expect to retire from the Army in another five years when they’ve logged their 20 years. From there the future is wide open.