This report is the second piece in the Valley Public Radio series "Common Threads: Veterans Still Fighting The War." Support for this series comes from Cal Humanities, as part of the War Comes Home initiative.
For many veterans returning home isn’t always an easy transition. A strong support system is usually necessary. As part of our series “Common Threads: Veterans Still Fighting The War”FM89s Ezra David Romero reports on a veteran’s love story and how that love compelled one man to leave the military for a career in the courtroom.
Jason Trupkin and Serena Huntington have a loving marriage, but they like to fight. Not each other but zombies. They daily play video games together for stress relief.
Today the couple is playing a game where plants defend the earth in the zombie apocalypse.
Romero: “Why do you guys think you connect over video games so well?”
Trupkin: “Maybe it’s because we’re on the same team and we’re not against each other, because we’re both really competitive. So it helps if we channel that competition to where we can help each other then be against each other.”
The couple met online while Trupkin was in the Coast Guard stationed in San Francisco.
“I only had Coast Guard friends so I was like you know what I’m going to do match and see if I can make some friends that are not in the Coast Guard,” Trupkin says.
There was only one problem. Huntington was eventually going to begin medical residency at the University of California San Francisco’s Fresno campus. The two dated, moved in together, exchanged vows in 2011 and then Huntington relocated to Fresno.
“When we first started we weren’t in it to find love. I met him and spent the rest of my life with him hopefully,” Huntington says.
Trupkin’s wife also has a competitive side. After med-school she was offered a well-paid, highly desired job at a Fresno area hospital. With the job offer Trupkin decided he’d move to Fresno ending his 10 year stint in the Coast Guard for his wife’s new job.
Huntington was relieved.
“I didn’t care what he did, he was home and that’s all that really mattered,” Huntington says. “I’m just glad he’s here.”
The 31-year-old originally from Long Island, New York enlisted in the military after a semester of community college in his late teens.
“911 happened and I was in a professional pilot program at SUNY, Farmingdale and then we stopped flying and I was like I don’t want to wait for this,” Trupkin says. “I just got out and joined the military after that.”
It’s in the Coast Guard where Trupkin realized he thrives in a structured atmosphere. He went through basic training in New Jersey and served as a helicopter flight mechanic in Connecticut, Puerto Rico, San Francisco and Sacramento.
“The military demands just a high standard of you and then when you get out you expect that standard from everyone else you see immediately when you get out because you are used to being around people that are held to a standard and held accountable for things,” Trupkin says.
Some of his fondest military memories come from serving in the Caribbean. He remembers an incident when a boat hauling 40 people capsized on a voyage from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.
“As we’re turning around to go home our cabin door slides open and as I’m looking out I can see four people holding onto a cooler,” Trupkin says. “So I just tell the pilot to mark that exact spot where they are so we can come back and get a better angle.”
It’s this living on the edge mentality that Trupkin thrives on. That’s why when he moved to Fresno he realized he couldn’t sit around while his wife worked. He decided he’d go back to college with the idea of becoming a lawyer.
“Before I joined the military I didn’t have the confidence I have now,” Trupkin says. “I went to Fresno City College and the light started shining more and more on law school and I figured maybe this is something I can do.”
Trupkin says his parents knew he’d perform well as a lawyer.
“I do remember trying to bargain with them,” Trupkin says. “Avoid going to my room or getting another scoop of ice cream for dessert or something like that. They are the ones that first said it. You know you should go to law school.”
Today he’s in his first semester at San Joaquin College of Law in Clovis.
And just like his parents predicted Trupkin is on a four year journey to become a lawyer and even though he says his decade in the Coast Guard will strengthen his career in law he says he thinks about his time in the military often.
“I definitely miss the missions; I miss the comradery, just flying in general,” Trupkin says. “But I definitely think I’ve made the right decisions in joining, and then in getting out, going to school and coming to law school.”
He’s not sure what type of law he’ll end up in, but so far he’s fascinated by criminal and aviation law.