From corps to classroom

Luke Clancy, Contributor

Unlike most 22-year-olds, OPRF teacher Ryan Pudela was not enjoying his life in college. He was teaching Japanese soldiers how to fire 20,000 pound guns. 

At the age of 10, Pudela began to think about joining the army. Whether it be from having grandparents in the military or a sense of duty, he knew he wanted to fight for our country. 

In high school, Pudela, like many teens, struggled to maintain good grades. He put forth minimal effort in school and was not mature enough to enter college. 

As the reality of attending college diminished, his passion for the military intensified. During his sophomore year, the 9/11 attacks took place. As a result, Pudela chose “to make the decision for real,” and as soon as he turned 17, the minimum age to join the Marines Corps, he enlisted. During Pudela’s senior year, his main goal was to prepare himself, both physically and mentally, for the Marines. Just 16 days after graduation, Pudela left for bootcamp. 

After graduating from a famously grueling boot camp, Pudela trained to become an artillery surveyor, who ensure that the massive artillery guns are positioned correctly. Due to his extremely specialized position, Pudela was not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather Japan. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and was able to travel all over Southeast Asia teaching U.S. allies how to properly operate modern artillery. 

In that role, Pudela soon realized he was a natural teacher and liked it. So, after his four years of active duty, Pudela “checked the box” to study education at Southern Illinois University. 

The transition from a military lifestyle to that of a college student was more of a culture shock, Pudela says, than when he entered the Military. Going from an ultra strict commander to a laid back teacher, not to mention being four years older than his classmates, was awkward for Pudela. However, just as he did with the Marines, he adjusted and eventually graduated. He is endorsed to teach both high school English and physical education. 

In addition, progressing from an ultra aggressive military lifestyle to a high school full of teenagers, Pudela needed to recalibrate his teaching style. He did, as always, and loves his work. One day, Pudela plans on becoming an athletic director. 

While reflecting on his time with the Marines, he concurs that they provided him with an invaluable opportunity to mature and become self sufficient. Pudela emphasizes that enlisting was “the smartest decision (he’d) ever made in (his) life.”