By USO Staff
Among the more than 25,000 runners who brave the legendary Boston Marathon each year, there’s one in particular the USO will be keeping its eye on during the 127th marathon on April 17, 2023. U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert Bruce will represent the USO this year in his first-ever marathon. In fact, it’s his first competitive race ever.
Robert has been a casual runner for about five years and has always dreamed of running the Boston Marathon. In October 2022, he made the commitment to race when he learned he could use the opportunity to fundraise for the USO as part of its team of four runners that run in support of the organization each year. He has raised $15,700 so far and continues to accept donations on GivenGain.
The USO was there for Robert when he left San Diego for his first assignment on the USS Pearl Harbor, just three months into his U.S. Navy service, and the USO has stayed by his side through his following 12 years of travel and two deployments to the Western Pacific with the Navy.
On one occasion, Robert was returning from his second deployment to see his newborn son. Once he arrived in San Diego, there was a six-hour layover for his next flight to Boston. He hadn’t eaten and didn’t have a place to stay.
“I walked into the airport’s USO center and was greeted warmly by the USO volunteers. They ensured I was fed, got me settled with a place to sleep and provided me with the same hospitality you receive when home with family.”
“I found it so amazing and comforting to be able to go into most airports and get a snack and have a place to rest my head. The people there were super nice, and it was almost like a family — an extended military family.”
Robert also valued how the USO was there for him and other service members stationed in distant locales.
“At almost every mail drop — and it’s tough to get mail out there — the USO had care packages with candy, snacks and phone cards. The phone cards were incredible because it was so hard to get a call out … [but] with the cards, we could.”
Robert shared that the personal messages from donors and volunteers, which were enclosed in the delivered USO Care Packages, were another morale booster while stationed in far-off locations or on deployment.
Aside from the challenges of balancing a military career, a family and 30-45 miles of running each week, Robert is also a Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) student. SNHU has been the USO’s Worldwide Education Partner since 2016, providing educational resources to service members and their spouses throughout their military journey and as they transition back into civilian life. Robert has been working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration for the past several months, with about one year remaining to complete the program in 2024.
“I had been toying with going back to school for a very long time, but the last seven years prior to being at this command, I worked in a very high, up-tempo environment.”
With his current assignment at the Plainville Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Connecticut, his commanding officer strongly encouraged Robert to complete the degree he began 20 years ago, which was before his 11-year career in real estate and subsequent decision to join the service at age 30. His commanding officer encouraged him to take advantage of the slower pace of his current role before returning to a high-stress assignment.
“He is just a great, really great person and a great leader, and he’s a big proponent of education. He told me, ‘It will take extra effort, but you won’t regret it,’” Robert said.
With determination and the support of SNHU, Robert is making it happen.
SNHU has a long history of working with service members and understanding the challenges they face. Robert said his student advisor and others have walked him through financial aid, transferring credits from his previous college experience, setting up an education plan, working with him when the plan needed to change and guiding him through the prerequisites so he could stay on track.
“I would say the student advising team has been nothing short of amazing.”
With online classes, he’s had the flexibility to complete coursework within his everyday schedule — an incredibly demanding schedule.
“I really and truly believe that everybody has more capacity, but you have to find it within yourself,” Robert shared. “Before I started classes, I thought I was at my capacity, but sometimes you’ve got to just make that leap of faith. And I did. And now I feel like things are such a well-oiled machine, and that is because I broke through the barrier of saying I can’t do it.”
Robert expects his degree from SNHU to give him a bigger foot in the door and to open more doors overall.
“I’ll be 50 years old when I leave the service. I wouldn’t want to try to start another career and not have every option available to me. SNHU has opened my eyes to the possibilities.”
As a husband, father, service member, student and soon-to-be marathon athlete, Robert has to believe that anything is possible in all aspects of his life to keep the momentum he’s worked so hard to build — and he does it with gratitude.
“Having SNHU and the USO both in my life at this point has been a blessing because it’s allowing me to give back. It allows me to help further my own education plan, which will in turn help my family, and help me in the service,” Robert said.
“I think overall this has been one of the most positive times in my entire life.”
How SNHU Has Partnered with the USO to Support our Nation’s Military
While SNHU has partnered with the USO to support U.S. service members since 2016, they have a long, rich history of serving the American military, existing as early as 1941.
Throughout their partnership with the USO, SNHU has been a valuable resource in assisting the USO with providing educational opportunities to the men and women in uniform, as well as their spouses, throughout various steps in their military journey. Since 2016, the USO and SNHU have provided over a dozen military-affiliated learners with full-tuition scholarships.
From collaborating on events and programming at USO locations around the world, to offering academic guidance, financial literacy support and more, SNHU is a true Force Behind the Forces®.
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