Robert Hicks: From combat to code

Brian Messing, Editor-in-Chief


“Imagine five days a week driving from gun violence out here to angels playing harps in the corner. That had a profound impact on my life. So much that college wasn’t an option, it was a requirement.”

These are the words of Robert Hicks, a sophomore studying computer science at Saint Martin’s University. Hicks came to Saint Martin’s after a career in the Army, and a life full of both difficulties and achievements. 

Hicks was raised in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, and described his daily life going between two different worlds. Hicks lived in a low-income area, but traveled through an affluent neighborhood on his way to school every day. 

According to Hicks, “Philadelphia was probably one of the most diverse places that I had ever seen in my life, and that kind of shaped me.” Hicks noted that Philadelphia was not only economically diverse, but also ethnically and culturally diverse. The city was also segregated, with certain ethnic groups living in certain neighborhoods.

Despite the lack of economic resources, Hicks described an important family structure that was instrumental to his future success: “Even though I grew up in a low income area, the love, the family system, the support, was amazing. I mean I could not have asked for a better family structure. People look at what we call the ‘ghetto’ from the outside, not really understanding what it is from the inside.” 

Hicks stated that there were firm expectations from his family about how he was supposed to behave, and that his parents did a wonderful job of raising him. In particular, his father and uncles served as examples of people to look up to,

“Having those solid male role models in my life was monumental.”

A profound moment of change in Hicks’ life occurred when he was a young man in college, and his mother was ill in the hospital.

“I was a freshman at Temple University in early 1992…Spring semester had just started…I knew she was in the hospital.”

Hicks attempted to call his mother in the hospital to check on her. Despite picking up the phone usually on the second or third ring, no one answered his call. Hicks called the hospital to check on her and spoke to a nurse. 

“Mrs. Hicks expired today,” said the nurse to Hicks over the phone. 

When asked about what his mother’s death meant for him, Hicks said  “My life totally ended. To say that my life changed at that moment is the understatement of the century.”

To go from having seen his mother just two weeks before to never seeing her again was a shock. This led Hicks to join the military. Hicks’ family had a proud history of serving the United States in the armed forces. 

“I’m four generations military,” said Hicks. “My grandfather was drafted for World War Two.”

Additionally, Hicks’ father served in the military and his son is currently serving in the military.

When Hicks joined the military, he assumed that it would only be a short-term gig: “I figured I would just do a couple of years in the military and 23 years and 7 months later…”

Hicks experienced a tough set of challenges upon entering the military, starting with basic combat training.

“Basic combat training is not the friendliest of places. My mother died in January and by October I was in basic combat training. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster. To go from the death of a mother to having this human I don’t know telling me how worthless I was and how worthless my mother was, was very difficult. But I made it through and I never looked back.”

From there, Hicks was moved to Fort Richardson in Alaska, where he was a basic combat infantryman with the 172nd Striker Brigade Combat team. 

Hicks was deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2005 during the Iraq War. Hicks described Mosul as quite dangerous:

“It was violent, but not insane, from my definition of insane. We were shot at consistently. Sniper, mortar, and car bombs were common at the time. I’ve actually stopped counting the times that I’ve had a sniper try to kill me.”

During his military career, Hicks had the opportunity to start a family. 

“I have three children, all of whom I love. I love all my kids.” 

Hicks’ children have gone on to have great success. One is a data scientist, another is a model, and the other, Robert Junior, is also in the military, and is currently stationed abroad in Germany.

Hicks came to Saint Martin’s not long after finishing his military career, “I was about to retire from the military and I knew that I was going to work on another degree.”

Hicks chose Saint Martin’s because of the amazing support and introduction that he received from staff. 

In particular, Hicks said “I want to give a shout out to Caitlan Jordan, she is a rock star. She was my introduction to Saint Martin’s and the support I received was unbelievable.”

Hicks is studying computer science and electrical engineering at Saint Martin’s. As of now, he is a computer science major with a minor in electrical engineering, but he hopes that by the time he graduates the electrical engineering major will be available so that he can graduate with two degrees. Hicks enjoys the problem solving that is such a large part of both of these disciplines.

 As he describes, “Computer science is not only about writing code, it is about finding the true issue. Most of the problems that I have seen that we deal with don’t have to do with the problem itself, but how we solve it.”

Post-graduation, Hicks is strongly considering getting an MBA. He is also thinking about getting a Masters in Engineering in addition to his MBA. 

In terms of what he wants to do once he finishes his graduate schooling, Hicks said, “Corporate America has called my name several times, I’ve gotten several job offers. I really want to just finish up and graduate.” 

Hicks said that he has also strongly considered teaching as another option.

When asked about what he sees as issues facing our country today, Hicks pointed to racism as being what he sees as the central issue facing America today: “It’s like a cancer, cancer doesn’t magically go away.” 

Hicks elaborated on what he sees as the specific problem, stating that it is more systematic than anything else. 

“When I say racism, I don’t mean racism as in what I call the toothless bandit: The guy in the back of the pickup truck with 500 beer cans and the confederate flag. Racism is the unwillingness to acknowledge our systematic issues. Right now in the United States we imprison more people than anyone else on this planet. That is a horrible number. Who is the racial demographic of the majority of those people? African-Americans and Latinos.”

In the end, Hicks sees the solution as possible if America can confront its problems with racism: “Every country that has had major conflict has to come to terms with its demons. America right now is at a pivotal place in our history. Most great civilizations have imploded from within. I want to see our nation flourish and I want to see it thrive.”

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