Veterans Day with HERO

Members of HERO Club participate in intense workouts in honor of those who have risked their lives to serve in the military. Photo courtesy of Matthew Desalvo

HERO Club raises awareness about veterans in the USD community

Lilyana Espinoza | News Editor | The USD Vista

As Veterans Day approaches, people honor veterans who have risked their lives to serve this country. At the University of San Diego, one club strives to bridge the gap between the USD community and the veterans whom they honor.

HERO, a club founded at USD in 2015, is working toward making an impact this Veterans Day.

Sophomore Matthew Desalvo, President of HERO Club, explained what HERO stands for and its mission.

“HERO stands for Honor, Empower, Remember, Overcome,” Desalvo said. “Our mission is to raise awareness for student-veterans attending universities, as well as servicemembers who were killed in action. We accomplish this mission by dedicating high-intensity, military-inspired workouts to fallen heroes and sharing their story with the campus community. We invite veterans to every workout to allow them to share their stories and experiences. This enables relationships to be formed between themselves and our members.”

HERO Club has two events planned for this Veterans Day.

“From 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. we will be at Bayside Community Center helping with renovations,” Desalvo said. “It’s important to give back to the community that we live in. We need to take care of and help each other. Later that afternoon we will be hosting our Veterans Day workout. The workout will be harder than usual because it is such an important day. All students are invited to come to the workout and to honor a servicemember that they personally know.”

While HERO Club is perhaps misunderstood as a mere workout club, it does much more for USD and the veteran community.

“HERO Club works hand-in-hand with veterans every other week and work[s] with foundations such as the Travis Manion Foundation to give back to the veteran community,” Desalvo said. “We are more than just a workout club, which I think is a common misconception within the campus community.”

When Desalvo states that everyone is welcome to participate, he means everyone. HERO Club is not only for current ROTC students or veterans, but for anyone wanting to give back.

“I myself am not in ROTC, but I believe it is important to give back to our military community,” Desalvo said.

Junior Nathan Smith, Vice President of HERO Club, spoke about how diverse the members who participate in HERO workout and events are.

“HERO is very special in regards to diversity and outreach,” Smith said. “We’ve had student athletes, SLP chefs, student-body presidents, ROTC, active-duty SEALs, retired military, graduate students, kids, and non-USD students attend our workouts.”

Smith emphasized why it is so key to connect with the veteran community.

“I think some undergraduate students are intimidated by veterans and fail to realize that they’re just people too,” Smith said. “I think it’s great to recognize veterans for the work they’ve done for this country, but almost every veteran I’ve talked to and become friends with doesn’t want their service to be what solely defines who they are.”

Smith further explained why it is so important to have that bridge between veterans and the student body.

“Our club serves to be a friendly face to the student-veteran population and help to break down barriers about veterans that come from stereotypes,” Smith said. “Some veterans come to USD not knowing anyone and, often being older than the average undergraduate student, can sometimes feel out of place.”

Junior Robert Bock, the founder of HERO Club, wanted to start something that connected more people with the veterans on campus.

HERO Club members run past the headstones at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and remember the fallen veterans. Photo courtesy of Matthew Desalvo

“I started the club as a way to connect the general student body to the active-duty and veteran communities at USD,” Bock said. “A lot of students don’t realize how many military-connected students are on campus, and our members have made connections and friendship with them at our events.  I also wanted to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country. I believe it is especially important to ensure that we never forget their stories and we continue to raise awareness for their selfless service.”

Junior Alexandra Super, current Marketing Chair of HERO Club, described her experience just a few weeks ago at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery during one of HERO’s biweekly workouts.

“We completed a ruck (weighted hike) from Point Loma Nazarene University to the cemetery and back,” Super said. “It was one of the most awe-inspiring, humbling, and peaceful experiences. If you have ever been to Arlington [National Cemetery], it had a very similar atmosphere.”

Super explained what she saw on that trail.

“On one side you have the ocean and the other, a view of downtown San Diego and beyond,” Super said. “Rows and rows of white headstones cover green grass. As you walk on the path, you see the headstones of veterans and their spouses built into the walls. Although we specifically visited the headstone of Michael A. Monsoor, a U.S. Navy Seal Medal of Honor recipient, we remembered all of the fallen soldiers, their families, and those who are currently serving.”

Super spoke about what brought her to HERO Club, despite the limited female presence in the club.

“What made me hesitate [to join] was the lack of female presence in the club which I think is more of an issue than the ‘rigorous’ workouts,” Super said. “While rigorousness is intimidating, another thing that stops females is lack of confidence in doing the workouts or not being able to do them at the level that the male executive members do them at.”

Super went on to explain why it is possible for anyone to participate even if they do not feel as physically strong as other members.

Members of HERO Club crawl through the mud in order to honor fallen veterans during one of their biweekly workouts. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Super

“Rigorousness is more about being able to persevere,” Super said. “However, women are extremely mentally tough and [HERO Club tries] to encourage women to see how far they can push themselves. For anyone, it can be surprising how much progress a person can make when they have the right mindset.”

Super said how she and Desalvo have worked to modify some workouts to make them more widely achievable by people of all abilities who want to join.

“It’s really not about your ability,” Super said. “It’s about being present, working hard, and pushing yourself. It is also about being uncomfortable and settling into that state. In life, there are going to be uncomfortable situations you will encounter and it is important to learn how to deal with and overcome them.”

HERO Club has also expanded its outreach past USD. The club has started a chapter at Purdue University and looks to continue expanding. At USD, HERO Club continues to grow into a club that serves as a way to build understanding between veterans and the people in the USD community.