EMU military veteran Dean Ditto shares his battle memories and fondness for his time at EMU

By Geoff Larcom / EMU

YPSILANTI – A proud Eastern Michigan University alumnus with a rich family military history will be a featured speaker Wednesday, Nov. 6 during a special Ann Arbor event to raise money for Fisher House, a facility that allows families to stay together when veterans require in-patient care at a VA Hospital.

Dean Ditto, who served four years in the Marine Corps, including Desert Storm, will be among the performances at the Fisher House Michigan’s Stories of Service, be held at 7 p.m. in the Michigan Theater.

The $15 tickets may be purchased at the event website and at the door. Veterans, first responders, and students will attend free. 

Fisher House is like a “Ronald McDonald House” for military and Veteran families. The event will help raise awareness of and support for the Fisher Houses coming to the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit.

Serving around the World

During four years of active duty in the Marine Corps, Ditto deployed across the globe, serving in Panama, Thailand, Japan, Desert Storm, and more. He currently works in the automotive industry and resides in Brighton with his wife (his college sweetheart) and three children while coaching youth football, lacrosse and wrestling.

Ditto recalls his Eastern Michigan days fondly, noting how easy it was to become involved in the fabric of the University. He remains proud of his military tenure, noting that it’s hard for anybody who has not served to understand the mental and physical challenge and brutal nature of battle.

Ditto, who says he was not an eager student then, graduated from Lincoln Park High School in 1988 and joined the Marines, leaving for boot camp about three weeks after graduation. Although he says he enjoyed the Marines and considered re-enlisting, he hedged his bets by applying to Eastern in late 1991.   

“I actually got my acceptance letter while doing cold-weather mountain warfare training in Bridgeport, California,” Ditto recalls.

Ditto did his freshman campus tour in his “Charlie” uniform, got out of the Marines in August 1992 and two weeks later did freshmen orientation, living in Walton Residence Hall.

Great experiences at Eastern

During his time at Eastern, Ditto became involved in a number of extracurricular activities, including serving as a Student Government Senator for four years, working as an active member of Chi Gamma Iota (Student Veteran Honor Fraternity) and playing intramural sports. 

He joined the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, which at the time occupied the house at 605 West Cross Street, across from Pease Auditorium. While in Lambda Chi Alpha, he served as in a variety of leadership positions, including rush and social chair and vice president of the Interfraternity Council.

He worked his way through college and after receiving a job offer at Jackson National Life doing Y2K remediation on mainframe computer systems, he left EMU with less than ten credits to go for graduation.

He spent two years at Jackson National Life, before doing stints at various other companies.  For the last six years, Ditto has worked for Global Team Blue.  He’s now the VP Director of Production Integration, overseeing a host of projects and productions and integration with various partner marketing agencies in delivering advertising and technology for Ford Motor Company.

Ditto came back to Eastern to earn those final credits and graduated in 2002, majoring in psychology and minoring in communications.

“I had an amazing  experience at Eastern,” he says now. “I had a lot of fun, and learned a ton about myself. Of my closest friends, 22 years later, many are from EMU.”

Ditto, who served in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm (when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait) campaigns, speaks of the untold stories of battle conditions.

For example, he served in a task force called “Grizzly,” charged with forging a path two days before the ground war started in Desert Storm. A large ground force later came through tracks that his group made.

Oil fire smoke and ‘incredible darkness’

Yet the confusing and windy desert conditions imposed an unexpected danger – being shot at by your own troops in a tank. Such danger arose from the striking differences in 1991 from battle conditions now. Those include far more primitive communications, and, of course, no GPS.

“We almost shot up our own guys at night,” Ditto says now. “It was the blackest of nights you could possibly fathom. There was smoke from the oil fires and incredible darkness.”

With no ability to get a medi-vac in, a friend hit by shrapnel bled out in the desert.

“Everybody thought it was easy (compared to Vietnam, etc.),” Ditto says of perceptions of Desert Storm. “People would say, ‘What you did in Kuwait, that was so cool. I thought, ‘Yeah, but I lost a friend.’

“People died in these grotesque manners. Even with the news shows that show blood, there’s nothing that adequately describes it.”

Yet such an intense and shared experience creates “lifelong friends and bonds that transcends distance and time.”

“It’s a great bond and vehicle even to this day,” Ditto says.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University’s website.