As a military veteran, reading Dr. Susan Salvador’s blog “Serving Our Military Heroes” I was pleased to learn that an organization such as ACPA is making our military veterans a priority. It also caused me to think about my experiences returning to the classroom and the challenges that are faced by other veterans that make the decision to pursue a college education.
I am a veteran of the first Gulf-War in the early 1990’s. I returned to earn both my undergraduate and graduate degrees upon completing my four-year enlistment. I have been in higher education for close to ten years now and every day work with college students including military veterans. I feel the combination of these experiences allows me to better recognize and understand the barriers many of our veterans, both young and old alike, face as they make this transition to the classroom. I also identify with the challenges we face as professionals in the field of higher education as each of us aim to best serve these students.
Recently, I met with a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I did not know he was a veteran until later in our meeting. His transcripts showed an academic performance that was less than stellar in his first attempt at college but after a several year break and subsequent return his grades showed dramatic improvement.
This student showed very little emotion and it was difficult to get a read on him. As I was attempting to learn more about him he shared little. As we discussed a gap in his education he revealed he was in the military and served in the war. He was very hesitant to do so. But his willingness to open up and share with me changed when I explained my background including my status as a veteran of the first Gulf War and my pursuit of education after serving in the military.
While I know my experiences in the military did not impact me to the degree as it has him, his willingness to discuss his situation instantly changed. He openly discussed the scars he bears from the war, the services he is receiving to overcome some of his barriers, and how his life has been impacted by what he witnessed and experienced during war. He became an entirely different person. He was open, engaging, and his level of confidence appeared to change instantly.
I share this story because I often wonder how I would have handled this situation if I was not a veteran? Would this student have opened up to me or given me the real opportunity to help him if I could not identify myself as a veteran? Would he have opened up to me if I was a veteran but did not serve during a time of war?
My experiences in the military are not as traumatic as this student’s were but I am guarded and often unwilling to divulge my status as a veteran of the first Gulf War. So I understand his reluctance to share his background. I can’t say for sure why but I never quite feel comfortable sharing this information.
How many other veterans are unwilling to share their background? How often do we encounter a student without ever realizing what burden they bear regardless of veteran status? What about their families… the father, the mother, the husband, the wife, the child, the brother, or the sister of those veterans who did not return or returned a different person? These are just some of the challenges those of us in higher education face every day.
I do not believe you have to be a veteran to assist a veteran. But I do believe we need to be sensitive, compassionate, and allow the student to move at his or her own pace through the process. I would like to say we must be empathetic but I am cautious to say this because sometimes it is too easily confused with pity. I can guarantee these heroes are not seeking pity. But we do need to recognize the sacrifices our veterans and their families make especially during a period of war or conflict.
Thank you for your commitment to our military veterans. It is organizations like ACPA, operating on a national and international level, which can make a difference. It is people like those who are members of ACPA and have a true desire to make a difference who will impact the successful transition of our military veterans.
US Gulf War Veteran