Tyler Browne has seen the world in two very different ways: from the end of an automatic rifle while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and, now, as one of 700-plus students studying aboard the MV Explorer.
For four years, Tyler served in the Marines--having joined at age 18. He fought in Iraq for six months and Afghanistan for five months during his four-year military tenure.
He has seen friends die, has had to shoot in order to be shot and killed, has lost friends in battle, and has experienced anger in himself and in the people of the countries in which he battled, like no other anger he has seen or felt before.
“It was the worst four years of my life,” Tyler, now 24, recalls as he shows photos of himself, clad in his military fatigues and gripping a machine gun.
His world is vastly different now and the change is immediate in his appearance. His close-cropped red hair from his military days is now grown out to long surfer locks. He’s traded his gun in for a passport, pen and notebook. But his travel, at least for the past two months, has still been on a ship.
“It’s kind of cool to be on a ship again, especially one like this,” he said. “It’s no where near the same as when I was a Marine.”
In the Battlefield
Tyler always wanted to join the military and had been in and out of military academies while in high school. His father served in Vietnam and for Tyler—part of the 9/11 generation—representing his country just seemed like the right thing to do. During boot camp in San Diego he signed up for infantry. “I wanted to shoot a gun and go on the front lines,” he recalls.
His fleet was sent first to Kuwait and then to Iraq just as the Battle of Fallujah was happening. “It was a really crazy time; you basically lived your life in a live or die mentality. You don’t think about it then, but now, as I’m older I just think, ‘Wow, that was crazy.’ ”
Tyler left the military two years ago and, since then, has been enrolled at Santa Barbara City College.
Although he saw a number of countries while in the Marines and backpacked through Europe after leaving the military, Tyler was intrigued by what Semester at Sea had to offer. “Basically, I wanted to see the world and I thought this would be a cool way to do it,” he said. “And it’s been a pretty cool experience to visit eight countries.”
There was a bit of a culture shock for him, despite having been in college. “I’ve never been in the dorms or spent a lot of time with people who were so much younger,” he said. “But it was cool to see some of these places because their landscapes reminded me of Iraq and Afghanistan. You realize how similar the topography is for so much of this part of the world.”
Tyler’s view of the world is vastly different than that of his SAS classmates. “In the military you’re not going into tourist areas at all. You’re in areas where people don’t want to go. But you get to see the back roads of Afghanistan and some villages that have generators for their electricity and no running water.”
Those experiences have helped him appreciate what he’s seen and learned as a student.
And, his time aboard the MV Explorer has provided him with vastly different, but still important, views of the world and provided a different sense of community.
“I’ve learned a lot about foreign and European Union politics,” he said. “And traveling to the different countries re-emphasized the lessons on the cultural norms that we studied.”
When not studying, in class, or touring a country, Tyler could often be found on the seventh deck of the MV Explorer, playing his guitar. He surprised, and wowed, the SAS community with his playing and singing talents during last night's Open Mic-Talent show.
“Tyler’s a real stand-up guy and a really good kid, pretty laid back,” said Shaun Crisler, Assistant Dean of Students for the summer voyage. “I especially appreciate hearing him play guitar at 12 in the morning when you’re outside stargazing. It’s nice to hear that soft guitar melody in the background.”
Tyler expects to graduate from S.B. City College this fall and plans to transfer to UC Berkeley or another UC campus to study economics.