Three childhood friends and Gilroy High grads returned from
serving overseas to face challenges of a different sort.
Three childhood friends and Gilroy High grads returned from serving overseas to face challenges of a different sort.
Friends since they played Little League baseball together, Jarred Sturla, 22, Drew Viale, 23, and Joey Alanis, 23, enlisted in the U.S. Army while in their first year at Gavilan. They had only one wish: to be stationed in Germany.
“I needed a change. I needed a break to see some of the world,” Sturla said. “I wanted to go to Europe and do some cool Army stuff, I guess.”
Now, they’re back in Gilroy, trying to pick up from where they left off. Only this time they have a better idea of what they want to do with their lives.
“That was a once in a lifetime thing to spend three years over there,” Viale said.
They attended boot camp together in June 2000. When they reached Germany, they were assigned different jobs. Sturla passed a stringent course to qualify to train to be a ranger, one of the Army’s elite combat units, and he became a ranger.
Viale received one of the more posh jobs in the military, driving around with the colonel’s caravan. Both were later sent to Kosovo as part of a peace-keeping mission for several months.
Meanwhile, Alanis became a cavalry scout, separated from the other two early on and then later sent home early due to an injury.
From April to November 2002, Sturla was deployed to Kosovo, where he watched the villages and roads near the boarder of Kosovo and Serbia for people carrying weapons. People would try to bring the weapons through and stockpile them, he said. He hid in the woods, secretly watching the town while exposed to the elements, including heat in the 100s, humidity and downpours.
“It was a long seven months because you were doing 24-7 Army for seven months,” he said. “I was excited to go, but I was glad it was done.”
Viale was sent to Kosovo from June until October of 2002. There he drove the colonel around in his protective team and bullet-proof Humvee.
“It was a good job,” Viale said. “It had its pluses and its minuses. I would have liked to stay in my unit because I was with them a year and a half. But I definitely got to see a lot more (of the country).”
On a four-day pass, Viale went to Bulgaria, where he visited the clubs and relaxed, he said. He was ready to leave after bunking in a room with 10 men in his barracks.
“It got on my nerves by the end,” he said.
In all, Viale, Sturla and Alanis were each able to see about a dozen countries in Europe. Mission accomplished.
When they arrived back in Gilroy, finding a job, starting school again and just settling into a routine was an uphill battle.
“I just kind of left all of the military stuff behind me, and I kind of started back to where I was again,” Sturla said.
Sturla works at Chili’s in Gilroy and takes classes at Gavilan. Being back at Gavilan is a little odd, he said.
“I’m kind of the older guy,” he said. “It’s all right. I remember being 18, too.”
He was accepted to California State University at Fresno next fall, but he decided to stay at Gavilan at least another semester to continue playing football.
Viale is working at Costco in Gilroy, and he will be attending the police academy at Gavilan this summer in the hopes of applying to the Gilroy Police Department.
Alanis returned to his former employer, Indian Motorcycle, but was left scrambling for a job when the company closed its doors last fall. Currently, he works at a car dealership in Hollister. He enjoys his job, but he misses the military life and is on the brink of deciding to re-enlist.
“I like the pace of the military,” he said. “A lot of my family, they’re not up on me going into the military. But if I do go back, they’ll support me.”
Alanis’s father, Alfredo, hopes his son doesn’t re-enlist. Although, he said, the military had a good affect on Alanis.
“He was a little bit more responsible, more mature,” his father said. “I think that he can see life a little differently, in a positive way compared to when he left.”
It also made him more patriotic. Alanis has a large American flag hanging over his bed that goes with him wherever he goes.
“He is in love with his country,” his father said.
Likewise, Sturla said his experiences in the military, especially Kosovo, where unemployment was rampant, gave him a whole new appreciation for the United States.
“It makes you appreciate the little things a lot more,” Sturla said. “We have it 20 times better. We have 20 times more opportunities than they have.”
Before he was discharged, he was only months from being sent to Iraq.
He e-mails the rest of his unit, which has been in Iraq since last February, and they tell him about their experiences in combat. He calls himself one of the lucky ones.
“It’s a relief being home and not having to worry about that,” he said, “where I can go to school every day.”