Bret Rogers is not your typical TCU student. He is a 36-year-old Veteran who has valuable job experiences under his belt, and has traveled all over the world. Rogers is an engineering major at TCU and is currently the president of Veterans in Engineering, Technology, and Science (V.E.T.S.) on campus. Not to mention he is married with four kids, three dogs, and two cats. You could say he has his hands full. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bret about his time in the Marines, life before TCU, and his experiences on campus.
Anna Kathryn Groom: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide on coming to TCU?
Bret Rogers: I am 36-years-old, married with four kids, three dogs, and two cats. I currently live in Granbury, Texas, but grew up in the small town of Graham, Texas. When deciding on schools it really came down to the three closest schools to Granbury; Tarleton, UTA and TCU. I met with the engineering department chairs for all three schools and found TCU to be the best fit. Cool side story: when I received my acceptance letter from TCU, I sent a picture of it to my mother. Shortly after she sent me a picture of her acceptance letter from TCU dated the spring before I was born. She never attended because she got pregnant with me.
AKG: What compelled you to enlist? When and where did you serve?
BR: Graham is an oilfield and farm town. I come from an oilfield family, meaning that my entire extended family worked in the oilfield. My father was an oilfield mechanic and my mother was a paralegal. Neither attended college and money was always tight so college was not an option for me. My options were pretty limited, stay and work in the oilfield or find another option. The Marines offered me a “free” ticket out and I jumped. I left for boot camp in San Diego, California (my first plane ride) two weeks after graduating high school in June of 2000. From there I was in Pensacola, Florida for about 18 months going through electronics school and Air Traffic Control Radar School. My next duty station was MCAS Miramar, California. The unit I was with was a small mobile Air Traffic Control Detachment. Our job was to set up remote airfields to support air operations. My specific job was to set up, maintain, and troubleshoot two separate radar systems. One of my first deployments with the unit was a Joint Task Force (JTF) with the DEA, Customs, and Border Patrol in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. This was two-month operation set up in the mountains to bust drug runners coming across the Canadian border. In January of 2003 we set off to Kuwait where we sat on the Kuwait/Iraq border until March when we invaded Iraq. We spent 7 months in Iraq before returning home and then another eight months in Iraq the following year.
AKG: How did you get involved with the Veterans group on campus? Can you explain what the group is like, what members do, etc.?
BR: Being an older/non-traditional student, our responsibilities outside of school differ from the traditional students on campus. So, it was easy for us to gravitate towards each other. There was a small group of us, maybe six or seven, Veterans and non-traditional students that were always studying together. We started seeing a lot Veterans in the engineering program struggle when they got to the upper-level math and engineering courses. We lost three people that either changed majors, or did not return to school because of this. Over the summer of 2017 we sat down and tried to figure what we could do to help Veterans and non-traditional students be successful here. The outcome of that meeting was Veterans in Engineering, Technology and Science (V.E.T.S.). The TCU staff and faculty have been extremely supportive of V.E.T.S. since we started. We have a dedicated classroom in Tucker Technology Center that is for Veterans and non-traditional students to study, get school work done, get help with certain classes, etc. This past summer the staff and faculty volunteered three weeks before classes began in a workshop in which new incoming Veterans and non-traditional students could be refreshed on math, science and psychology. We do not require any commitment from our members – we are really here to just support each other. We also do some community outreach activities with other Veteran organizations and underprivileged schools. We do resume workshops, class scheduling workshops and really just to support each other any way we can. I would put in [brackets] that the last sentence pertains to on campus activities. It seems like as is – they are indicating they do these as a community outreach activities
AKG: What are some of your responsibilities of being president?
BR: Our group is made up of a president, vice president, treasurer, and two board members. As president, my responsibilities include meeting with staff and faculty, keeping our members up to date on our activities, getting members ID card access to the study room in Tucker, coordinating events and anything else that might arise. Luckily, this does not all fall on my shoulders. I can always count on another board member to help.
AKG: Did you always know you wanted to be an engineering major? What do you want to do with your engineering major?
BR: From a very young age I was always building and designing stuff. I loved working with my hands and fixing things. I have always had this knack for understanding how things worked and how to fix them. After I got out of the Marines I worked a few jobs before getting hired on at Raytheon in 2007. I was hired onto the ATNAVICS program which is the radar system that replaced the ones I worked on in the Marines. With that job, the office I worked for was in Boston, Massachusetts. I got to live wherever I wanted so long as I was within a two-hour drive to an airport. I would fly to whatever base I needed to be at for that amount of time and fly home when all was good. I also did five more tours to Iraq with Raytheon to support the U.S. Army, who was also using the ATNAVICS system. I missed a lot of birthdays and holidays with my children doing this, so I knew something had to change. When I was on a jobsite, I was in constant contact with the engineers that designed the system. They received twice as much pay as me and rarely, if ever, traveled. So, I said, “That’s what I am going to do.” And here I am.
As far as what I want to do with my engineering major, I chose mechanical engineering because it offers such a broad variety of possibilities. I am a huge lake rat and wakeboard fanatic so ideally; dream job would be designing boats for Master Craft or one of the wake boat manufactures. However, anything that keeps my interest and doesn’t follow me home every day is fine with me.
AKG: How is it juggling your wife and children with your schoolwork? Do you have any tips for other non-traditional students?
BR: This is definitely the biggest struggle for Veterans or non-traditional students. It would be impossible to be here if it wasn’t for my wife. She really pushed me to come to school and has been an absolute boss to support me. She takes care of everything and everyone to allow me to focus on school and being successful at it. It has strained our marriage and really tested it and that continues even today but we were both in the Marines, both hardheaded and both refuse to surrender. My tips for other Veterans and non-traditional students would be to make sure you have a solid support structure behind you for this. It is extremely difficult to make it alone and never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is the biggest issue for Veteran students I believe. In the military, being self-sufficient is force-fed to you the entire enlistment. So, asking for help is not something we are accustomed to. Ask for help.
AKG: Is it difficult to focus on your studies despite having a family and being so busy?
BR: I am lucky to have my wife supporting me to make this a bit easier. I spend on average about 12-14 hours a day on campus to get all of my work done before going home. I have to do this because there are always distractions at home. With four kids, the weekends are spent rushing to soccer games, volleyball games, etc. It is a constant struggle to stay focused and places a lot of stress on both my wife and I, but we both know it will be worth it in the end.
AKG: What do you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
BR: It’s funny because there is a whole list of things I would love to have done differently, but those experiences made me who I am today. I’d tell him to invest in Google and Apple though for sure.