GVSU club men’s rugby player brings military background to team

GVL / Courtesy - Ben Serra

GVL / Courtesy – Ben Serra

Natalie Longroy

Many students discover what career they want to pursue during their first years in college, but there’s the few that have a different calling: the call to serve their country.

For Ben Serra, a member of the Grand Valley State men’s club rugby team, he knew from a young age the military was an interest.

“Everything I had became a gun,” Serra said. “When I was in elementary school, my mom gave me a summer project to use our sandbox and build a replica of all the different battles from World War II or World War I.”

He wanted to enlist right out of high school, but wanted to make sure it was what he really wanted to do. He knew he wanted to pursue a professional career other than the military at some point in his life, so he decided to attend Grand Valley State.

Serra began his first year at GVSU in the fall of 2014 and he wanted to join some sort of club to be a part of the community. Rugby was it.

“From the first practice, I loved the atmosphere and the guys there,” Serra said. “It’s a great sport, I’ve loved playing it for a long time.”

He enlisted at the end of his first year in May of 2015.

“I saw it coming, it was a long process so I was able to get mentally ready for it, but it was still really strange,” Serra said. “It was two completely different worlds that I was in.”

He was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia in mid-October of 2015 for his One Station Unit Training, which is basic training and infantry school combined.

While at basic training sergeants instilled a sense of pride in Serra.

The days at Fort Benning were usually 17-hour days starting at 4:15 a.m. By 5 a.m. the beds were made, morning routines finished and dressed for physical training.

After physical training, Serra and his peers switched into their uniforms and headed to breakfast at 7 a.m. Following breakfast, they got their gear ready for training. Training consisted of either heading to a range to shoot or practice tactics.

They ate lunch at the range and finished training around 4 p.m. Dinner was at 5 p.m. To end the day, they usually cleaned their weapons, completed classroom work or cleaned equipment for the next day. Lights out was promptly at 9 p.m.

“Along with Army tactics and customs, it taught me discipline, teamwork, confidence, physical toughness, mental fortitude, and critical-thinking skills that I don’t think I could have acquired anywhere else,” Serra said.

Serra completed training this February at the top of his class, which means he consistently put extra effort into making sure the platoon is taken care of, has great physical training test scores and an understanding of the infantry’s role in combat.

Not only did he come back home to the friends made prior to camp, but he was leaving the ones he made at Fort Benning.

“Because you’re in such a stressful environment for so long and you’re living so closely with a lot of guys,” Serra said. “I have a couple friendships that are going to be definitely lasting friendships just because of that bond.”

Now Serra’s unit is the 1-125th Infantry in the Michigan Army National Guard. He has four and a half years left on a six-year contract and still attends drill weekends once a month where they continue their training. For drill weekends, his home-station is either south of Grand Rapids at the Grand Valley Armory or Camp Grayling.

Since Serra has been back with GVSU men’s club rugby team, his changes haven’t gone unnoticed.

“The training has helped him in that he is very mentally tough and his conditioning is better than anyone else on the team,” said team captain Cam Maher.

“He is always smiling, always working hard, helping his teammates without asking for anything in return,” said teammate Louis Ricard. “He is one of the most caring and giving people, and I am truly lucky to have him as a teammate, but more importantly as a friend.”

He made such an impact on the team, while Serra was away at basic training the team elected him as club president.

Serra plans to finish out his bachelor’s degree in business economics while finishing out his contract with the National Guard, where he could be deployed at any time.