UB veterans share their stories

Brian Stuhlmiller spent three years at UB as a chemistry major before joining the armed forces in an infantry unit.

He felt he wasn’t ready to go out into the world yet and thought the Army would be a good place to delay his graduation. He felt like he needed to mature before going out and getting a job.

He joined in 2009, graduated basic training and was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

“I went to airborne school there,” Stuhlmiller said. “The first time I was in a plane I was on my way to basic training and the second time I was jumping out of it.”

Three weeks later, he was deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Sthulmiller is just one of about 300 veterans taking classes at UB and adjusting to life outside the military and war zones for a chance at a college education.

There are programs like the UB Veterans Association that allow veterans to come together and form a community on campus. Nicholas Manfredi, the president of the organization, wants to expand the organization to all of the veterans on campus.

Four UB Veterans Association e-board members, Manfredi, Stuhlmiller, Justine Bottorff and Sean Boadi shared their stories and experience in the armed forces and why they decided to enlist.

Justine Bottorff

Justine Bottorff is a junior nursing student, though she’s 27 year old.

She joined the military to get away from her small hometown near Utica, New York and the life she had growing up.

“I joined the Army just to get far away and being in the Army is pretty much like being on a different planet,” Bottorff said.

She remembers the disappointment her classmates and teachers demonstrated when she decided she was going into the armed forces instead of attending college. She was an honors student and excelled in her classes, but once she saw the opportunity the Army offered, she set her mind to it.

She wanted to take a break from the rigor of school because she knew it was something she could always go back to. Her best friend’s parents and her track coach became her biggest supporters, encouraging her to join.

“People would tell me, ‘You’re too smart to join the Army,’ and that made me really mad,” Bottorff said.

Bottorff was in the Honors Society and at the end of the academic year a large ceremony was held and it was announced where students were going to college.

“I’m the first person on the list because the names are in alphabetical order and when they announced, ‘Justine Bottorff, joining the U.S. Army and leaving on this date,’ there was just a silence.”

She said the disproval gave her strength and only furthered her excitement to leave the town and go into the armed forces.

Her family wasn’t thrilled about the decision, they knew they had to accept it, or lose contact with Bottorff.

“My mom had to sign a waiver because I was still 17 at the time I was set to leave,” Bottorff said. “I knew she didn’t want me to go, but I was stubborn, and she knew if she tried to stop me, she ran the risk of losing me.”

Brian Stuhlmiller

Stuhlmiller liked being deployed better than being in the states. In Afghanistan, he was constantly doing his job. Back in North Carolina, he was just cutting grass, working long days or overnight shifts to answer phones that no one calls.

“We would have to pick grass out of the sidewalk, it was busy work,” Stuhlmiller said. “Twice a year we would have a clean sweep where we had to make the base look perfect. Even if you finish on Wednesday, you’re not done until Friday. You don’t have tools that work, or enough supplies.”

Stuhlmiller said it required them to improvise to keep themselves busy.

His group of eight guys all left around the same time. Stuhlmiller said that six of them were deployed together, which is unusual.

“A lot of us turned down promotions to stay together,” Stuhlmiller said. “We all trusted each other and worked hard. They wanted to spread us out, but we trusted each other which was more important than a promotion.”

One of these men was the best man at his wedding. They all stay in touch, though they don’t see each other every day anymore.

Sean Boadi

Sean, like Bottorff and Stuhlmiller, was also stationed at Fort Bragg, though he was affiliated with a different brigade.

He deployed to Iraq in 2011, where he said there was confusion about why his brigade was there.

“There was a rumor going around that the reason why we went with a different group was because we didn’t refuse to go airborne,” Boadi said. “The NCO [non-commissioned officer] got mad when he heard about that because he never got to go airborne. He started throwing chairs around everywhere, because someone told him we didn’t want to go airborne.”

Boadi admits he wasn’t a good student – he was a typical 18 year-old who didn’t care about school or going to class. He always wanted to see what it was like in the military, so he enlisted and left UB.

When he first arrived in Iraq, it was snowing.

Boadi is a combat engineer, which he says basically means he “gets to blow stuff up.”

“The people who were actually allowed to blow stuff up had taken over for the most part at this point,” Boadi said. “The one time we actually had things to blow up, they wouldn’t let us. They said they were too busy doing other things. There’s nothing going on, but there’s stuff to blow up.”

He loved the people he deployed with, but didn’t like the people he had to be around once he came back. He cites it as a large reason why he left – he was no longer with his brigade and said he knew he needed to get away from the new people he was with.

Now, Boadi has returned to UB to study political science. He’s about to finish his studies in the major and he plans to move on to business.

Nicholas Manfredi

Manfredi has always wanted to be a pilot in the United States Airforce, ever since he was a kid. His father was in the Navy and worked on fighter planes, so he had experience with the military, unlike his other e-board members.

In order to be a pilot, he first needed a four-year degree. For Manfredi, this would be difficult to obtain.

“I really didn’t have the money to go to school and neither did my parents,” Manfredi said. “So I decided to enlist in the International Guard at Niagara Falls.”

There he was part of the aircrew, which allowed him to load the plane properly to ensure it was balanced and airdropped equipment, supplies and people.

By December 2011, Manfredi was off to training. It took a little over a year, but once he was done he began to attend UB in the spring of 2013. He noticed his unit was starting to move more rapidly and people were getting deployed.

“I volunteered for deployment and so our unit left in the beginning of June/July and I got there in August,” Manfredi said. “I stayed until Nov. 21, so I had a short deployment. I got back a day or two before my 20thbirthday.”

He spent the first month of his deployment prepared to move at any moment with a crew, prepared to bring 90 marines into Iraq or Jordan so long as they had a two-hour notice. During this time there was a lot of chemical warfare and his unit was waiting on orders.

That never happened though – toward the end of his deployment, he spent most of his time in Iraq to “keep the state department happy.” He also spent time taking weapons out of Iraq.

“I saw a lot of different colors of sand, definitely, but also a lot of oil, just in the water,” Manfredi said. “I didn’t get to go to Afghanistan, but I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity when I’m a pilot in a couple years.”

Manfredi became the president of the UB Veterans Association, though he will be graduating in the spring. He hopes that the clubs’ legacy will hold even after he leaves.

Tori Roseman is the senior features editor and can be reached at tori.roseman@ubspectrum.com.