Their years at Catholic University overlapped. They knew each other as members of PEERS, the student organization dedicated to peer education about safe behaviors in college life. Santino Cozza, B.S. 2016, served as president of the organization and was a resident assistant. Zach Beckman, B.A. 2017, held the title of “Mr. CUA 2016.” They were friendly on campus, but only kept in touch after graduation through social media.
Last December, when they sat down for coffee on a U.S. Air Force base in Kuwait, it was a much-needed “homecoming.”
“It was comforting to reconnect and reminisce about Catholic University, a special place in both of our lives,” says Cozza. “Catching up with Zach, especially at that time of year, definitely felt like a gift from home.”
First Lieutenant Beckman and Captain Cozza had different paths to military service. “My grandfather and father were also Marines,” says Beckman. “The Marine Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment, along with professionalism, is why there was no other choice for me.”
Beckman enlisted right after high school, joining the Reserves. That allowed him to attend CatholicU, where he majored in politics. A year after graduation, he committed to active duty.
By his own account, Cozza had “zero” interest in joining the military. As a physics major, he aspired to graduate school and a career in medical diagnostics. He received a master’s degree in radiation physics from Hofstra University. As he neared completion of that degree, he missed the service aspect of his time at CatholicU. “Then, like clockwork, a recruiter reached out to me and I realized I could use my studies in radiation physics while serving others as a military officer.”
The decision to join the Air Force, says Cozza, was made with the support of his wife, Monica Rivera, B.A. 2016, whom he met at Catholic University. Monica, who majored in education, is an elementary school teacher. “Military spouses make so many sacrifices, especially during deployments,” says Cozza.
In Kuwait, Cozza was the officer in charge of bioenvironmental engineering, or as he explains, “My job was to keep airmen safe.” He evaluated hazards ranging from radiation, to chemicals, to noise. He provided support to three installations; one was where Beckman was serving as the platoon commander and communications officer for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.
Cozza returned home in January, and is now stationed in New Mexico at the Headquarters U.S. Air Force Safety Center, where his work is focused on safety for the development and operational use of all nuclear and directed-energy weapon systems. Beckman is still deployed.
The airman and the Marine look forward to catching up again when Beckman returns home. Until then, both savor their moment of shared coffee. “Seeing a familiar face from a time of such good memories — in an extremely different environment — was a great reminder that we do live in a small world and paths may always cross again,” says Beckman.