From red, white, and blue to black and gold
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On Sept. 11, 2001, seventh-grader Alec Brobston went home from school and told his mom two things: He wanted to paint his room red, white, and blue, and he intended to join the U.S. Army.
“My mom and grandma painted my room that weekend,” says Brobston, today a University of Iowa junior. “They were less excited about the Army idea.”
Brobston went on to fulfill his pledge, beginning a journey that’s taken him to South Korea, Iraq, and eventually the UI, where he’s started a group that aims to build community among veterans.
The New London, Iowa, native enrolled at Kirkwood Community College immediately after high school, but he couldn’t shake his interest in military service.
“I knew it was what I wanted to do, and the time was right,” Brobston recalls. Soon he was beginning his three years and 27 weeks of active service.
Family history drew him to the Army—both his grandfathers had served during World War II, his uncle during Vietnam. Brobston trained at Fort Knox in Kentucky, then was stationed at Camp Casey in South Korea. He returned stateside to Georgia’s Fort Benning, then deployed for a year in Iraq.
“By 2009, our missions focused on maintaining the peace and helping to grow Iraq’s economy,” he says. “The economy had been really reliant on Baghdad, and the government was looking to change that.”
Returning home and finishing out his initial commitment to the Army, Brobston started planning his next steps.
Hawkeyes in Des Moines
Alec Brobston joins other UI students—plus university faculty, staff, leaders, and alumni—next week in Des Moines for the annual Hawkeye Caucus event at the state capitol.
Held Tuesday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the capitol rotunda, the event showcases the university’s connections to communities across the state. It’s also a chance for students and others to meet with state legislators.
“I grew up a huge Hawkeye fan. In 2010, I got up early to watch the Orange Bowl from Iraq—no fighting over the TV at 3 a.m.,” he says. “I’d always identified as a Hawkeye, so I figured, ‘Why not make it official?’”
Enrolling at the UI meant getting a military transcript and applying for financial aid available to veterans—your typical “hurry-up-and-wait” process. Once on campus, Brobston discovered other factors that complicated the college transition.
“It’s different being a little older than most of your classmates,” he says. “I also found that I’d kind of freeze up in a crowd—I remember reading a poem in front of class and feeling my hands shaking.”
Luckily, he had support. Brobston’s brother moved with him to Iowa City, and other campus student veterans offered a readymade community. Brobston also praises the UI offices and staff who helped make things easier.
“The university’s admissions policies for veterans are great,” he says. “There’s a good veterans population on campus, and plenty of resources like the UI Veterans Association and the Veterans Center.”
Brobston also signed up for Life After War, a class focused on physical, psychological, and other issues that can follow military deployment. Some of his classmates became his best friends.
So when Brobston started looking to expand opportunities for area veterans, he found plenty of help.
The result is Team Iowa, a group dedicated to empowering veterans as they make the transition to civilian life. They plan monthly get-togethers and fund-raising events.
“He did a wonderful job describing what it’s like to come back from a combat zone and enter college,” Mason says. “I wasn’t surprised he got a standing ovation. I was surprised to see how touched he was by the welcome he received.”
Watching the game from the Kinnick Stadium press box, Brobston commented on the special Hawkeye helmets created for the game. “You’d look pretty good in a helmet like that,” Mason told him.
Alec Brobston receives a special Hawkeye helmet from UI President Sally Mason. Photo by Tim Schoon.
When he turned out for a veterans’ reception at the president’s residence a few days later, he found one waiting for him.
“I’ve got a lot of offers for that helmet,” Brobston says. “But I’ll never give it up. The stories connected to it are just too great.”
As he wraps up his degree—he’s studying criminology through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences sociology department— Brobston hopes to keep building Team Iowa. He’s also considering law school or a job with a federal law-enforcement agency.
“I’ve met so many good people here at Iowa,” he says. “They’ve helped me identify what I want to do and how to make it happen.”
To read about another UI student veteran, visit A voice for veterans: Touzani seeks to build community for veterans as association president.