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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Grads Share Experience

Where in Russia can you meet a group of Americans who have in common everything from a stint in the 1991 Persian Gulf War to a habit of folding their socks and underwear?

At the Moscow alumni society for graduates of U.S. military academies, which was founded in 1994 by David Sanders, a 42-year-old sales and marketing director at the Ford Company.

"The idea was primarily both social and business. To find other people from your lifestyle and interact with them," said Sanders, who graduated from West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, in 1979.

Today the society's 30 members in Moscow and St. Petersburg include West Point graduates - including four from Sanders' class of '79 - and graduates from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Members of the society meet at least quarterly to go to a restaurant or have a barbecue. They reminisce about their past shared experiences - at the academy or on active duty with the U.S. military - and they network for business in Moscow.

"As for business, it's very easy for graduates of the same university to do business together, because of the same background and the same mind-set," Sanders said.

That background and mind-set is often formed during four years of rigorous study, in colleges with strict discipline and high moral and academic standards.

"Most of the academies have the tradition of promoting people to be honest and straightforward in business and personal lives. You automatically feel comfortable with who you have that affiliation with. If they say they're going to do something, you know they are going to do it," said Sanders, who after graduation was on active duty for 11 years and spent seven months in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War working on logistics, supplying materials for the army's needs.

As for academics, Sanders said, studying at West Point, where students only get one month a year off for vacation and hardly have any free time, was a bit of a shock at first, but also a positive challenge. "They don't accept you failing any class. You fail a course - they throw you out."

Something else that graduates can hardly forget is the way they were taught to fold their socks and underwear. "I have been trying to get rid of this habit for almost 40 years," joked James Connell, 59, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. After Annapolis, Connell spent 31 years on active and reserve duty, and now works in Moscow for the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. He is a fan of the alumni society.

"It's important to have this society because of the networking involved. It helps the younger ones looking for jobs [in Russia] to share the experience of the older people who have been able to find a place," he said.

Another alumni member, Darrell Stanaford, 33, said it is also just fun getting together. After West Point, Stanaford was a reconnaissance platoon leader during the Gulf War. Now, he works as a managing partner for The Western Group ONCOR International, a real estate company.

The alumni "enjoy getting together because we have such a strong shared sense of experience," Stanaford said. "Going to the service academy is a very challenging, memorable experience and serving in the military is the same thing. You develop shared perspectives of life. It's always fun to get together."