In the summer of 1969, Mike Gremba ended five years at a religious seminary and joined the Marine Corps, going to boot camp on Parris Island, S.C.
Thirty-seven years later, Matthew Gibson went to the same base for training and then served four years in Afghanistan.
Despite the long gap between their stays at boot camp, Mr. Gibson, 24, is able to relate to the experiences of Mr. Gremba, 62, who is now one of his instructors in the criminal justice program at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in North Fayette.
"It was pretty intense," Mr. Gremba recalled about his eight-week boot camp during the Vietnam War. "They run you to death."
"You sweat a puddle on the floor," Mr. Gibson agreed, remembering his 12-week stint in 2006.
Mr. Gremba said civilians often asked how he was able to switch from training for the clergy to training for the armed forces.
"I said, 'You don't understand. The seminary was all about discipline, too. It's just the language was a little more colorful in the military.' "
Veterans can relate to those kinds of stories.
On Friday, Pittsburgh Technical Institute opened and dedicated a private lounge -- in honor of Veterans Day -- that offers military students and staff a place to swap stories, socialize, study, relax and gain access to military-specific resources on jobs, financial aid and counseling.
Mr. Gibson, of Robinson, said the lounge provides a safe, private space for veterans to talk with fellow students and faculty mentors about common issues such as handling stressful situations, readjusting to life back home and finding a post-service career path.
"We can all relate because we have the same type of experience," Mr. Gibson said. "It's a lot easier to talk to these guys than someone who has just been a civilian."
Greg DeFeo, president of the two-year career college, said the lounge idea evolved from the realization that roughly 50 out of 2,000 students either serve, or have served, in the military. They range in age from their 20s to their 40s and include veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf wars, he said.
"Not only do we need to honor them for the sacrifices they've made, but we need to give them services that are unique to their needs," Mr. DeFeo said.
The college has other military-friendly features, too. The deployment policy allows students who are called to active duty to leave immediately, with the school forgiving all charges for the semester and freezing the tuition rate until their return.
Also, the school recently announced the Gold Star tuition assistance program for any student whose parent has been killed in the line of duty. The aid will ensure such students pay no out-of-pocket tuition costs for the length of their academic program, spokeswoman Linda Gayle Allan said.
Campus resident Alex Appleby, 20, and his friend Nathan Jekel, 22, of North Fayette, are National Guardsmen whose tuition is paid through the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill. They are regularly deployed a few days a month or when a hurricane or other disaster strikes. Both are working on an associate degree in safety and security administration in the school of criminal justice.
Mr. Appleby said he appreciates the college providing a quiet space to meet fellow military members and learn from their experiences.
"To see PTI do that for us, it means a lot," he said.
Military students should vent rather than let issues or memories that bother them build up and become obstacles in the classroom, said Mr. Gremba, a full-time instructor in safety and security administration.
"In this lounge, they might be able to share something," he said.
The lounge, which is accessed with a swipe card, contains two desktop computers, military publications, job information and a message board, as well as sofas, TV, telephone, refrigerator and coffee machine. Emblems on the wall represent the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.
Chuck Cubelic, vice president of business affairs, said 15 to 20 students provided their ideas for the lounge furnishings and resources, and the school will continue to listen to their needs and requests.
"They will have a home of their own," he said.
About 160 people attended the dedication ceremony, including members of American Legion Post 171 and VFW Post 7070, both in Oakdale.
Tom Molinaro, the American Legion post commander, said he planned to place membership information in the lounge for the students. He joked: "As you can see, we're all getting pretty old and decrepit, and we need some young blood to come in."
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.