From Jazz Musician to Purple Heart Recipient to IT Pro: The Journey of ORU Graduate Sean O'Brien
US Veteran | Hometown: Sanborn, Iowa
Music doesn’t automatically come to mind when you think about the military, but then most people don’t think about the United States Army Band, which provides musical support for U.S. leadership and serves the nation through music. As an accomplished jazz guitarist, Sean O'Brien started his military career as a member of the Army Band, where he toured the country and performed for dignitaries. But then 9/11 happened, and Sean’s career as a musician took a backseat to his calling as a soldier.
“I was kind of disenchanted,” Sean said, “because there was a perception that musicians weren’t soldiers. I didn’t agree with this. For me, it was time to go! So, I entered officer candidate school, trained at Fort Benning in Georgia, and was selected to be an artillery officer.”
“The way I see things,” Sean said, “God’s got me. Some soldiers when they leave the military have their identity stripped away. But when you have an identity in Christ, now you have a fundamental basis for everything."
Sacrifice in the Line of Duty
Eventually, Sean found himself in Southern Afghanistan, serving as a fire direction officer and platoon leader. Sean’s service there had him dealing with border problems, doing reconnaissance, and supporting humanitarian efforts, all of it in a very dangerous place. And this danger became a terrifying reality when Sean’s Humvee drove over and detonated an improvised explosive device.
“All of a sudden,” Sean said, “everything went black … not figuratively … literally there was no sunlight. The explosion vaporized our engine so it doesn’t make any sense that we all survived. Looking back, God’s hand moved in a lot of these terrible situations … more times than I can count.”
For his injuries, Sean received the Purple Heart, presented to service members who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action. Sean continued serving in the military, but eventually, he returned to the U.S. and began selling cars in Tulsa. However, a chance visit to the ORU campus changed his career trajectory.
“My wife,” Sean said, “was attending another university, but she didn’t like it. Around that time, we stopped by ORU’s College Weekend just to say hello to a friend. While we were there, we met a lot of great people, and they were all extremely welcoming.”
Back to College: Finding a Passion for IT
Soon after, Sean’s wife enrolled at ORU, and a semester later, Sean joined her as an ORU CIT student. As a student, Sean came to love ORU’s Computing and Mathematics Department. But it was more than that; he also came to love ORU’s Spirit-empowered culture.
“The attention to love and excellence,” Sean said, “you’ll find it everywhere on campus. ORU students legitimately identify with God. It isn’t something they’re being told to do. Seeing the gifts of the Spirit at work, feeling the mantle of Christ upon this place, it’s all part of the culture at ORU.”
Sean and his wife graduated with ORU’s Class of 2022, and soon after, Sean began working in ORU’s IT Department. As an IT professional, Sean now contributes to the University’s growing technology footprint. In 2015, ORU made a long-term commitment to technological growth with its construction of the award-winning Global Learning Center. Since then, ORU has expanded further into the areas of virtual reality, global education, and medical training. This expansion, according to Sean, is the result of a forward-thinking department that constantly explores next-generation technologies.
“We’re currently examining the Metaverse,” Sean said, “as a way to connect distant people in digital spaces. And through a recent partnership with the Foundation for Advancing Pediatric Orthopaedics, ORU is now supporting virtual reality education in the pediatric orthopedic field. At ORU, we’re always looking around the corner to see what new technologies are rolling out.”
Once a musician, then a solider, and now a technologist, Sean sees his journey from Afghanistan to ORU as the answer to a very important question: “What do you want me to do God?”
“The way I see things,” Sean said, “God’s got me. Some soldiers when they leave the military have their identity stripped away. But when you have an identity in Christ, now you have a fundamental basis for everything. All of a sudden stuff falls into line because ultimately, God’s going to put you in the place where He needs you most.”