As some of us Veteran Students get ready to do the Summer School thing:
Thanks in part to the new GI Bill, veterans are leaving the military and going to back to school in record numbers. Can you blame us, the money is good and alot of us are pretty tired of getting blown up and shot at. We sit in our platoon offices or while we are out on the PT route and dream about the so much greener grass on the outside. So we go through the motions and leave active duty and then, reality b#$%^ slaps you the first day you step on campus.
Adrenaline spikes as you cross through the masses of children that surround you. The quad or university center looks shockingly like baghdad or kabul or khe sanh. You make it safely to a classroom find your seat and realize your back is to not just one door but 10 and about 400 people. This all by itself is not the hard part, its the realization that everything you have worked for and once held so much pride in means absolutely nothing to these kids. They, luckily, have no idea what it means to have been to war and they do not tend to show the respect that slightly older people do towards veterans. At first this is a hard pill to swallow but it passes with time and you realize you aren’t an NCO or an officer any more. The next bomb that will drop on you: just how old you are. I am a young buck by just about any standards but most of the kids I am in class with they were in 7th grade when I was in Afghanistan. Thats a killer, you start to feel out of place or like the old guy at the party who needs to just go home and go to sleep cause its past his bed time. These series of challenges are difficult to overcome, add on the inherent challenge of a college education and a veteran can feel strained in a hurry. So what do we do? Same thing we always do pinky, try and take over the world…. or settle for the university.
Find other veterans. Make friends, build veteran groups. When I was briefly a paratrooper I learned about LGOPP’s (little groups of pissed off paratroopers), they form any time a mass jump happens, its where whatever group of joes you find yourself with, turns into a fire team and move outs for the mission. The rule of the LGOPP is as follows: After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPs. This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19 year old American paratroopers. They are well-trained, armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander’s intent as “March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you…” or something like that. Happily they go about the day’s work….. We should use the same concept form LGOPVS (little groups of pissed off veteran students). Invade your university veteran center, take it over, all the assets are there we just need to use them. I hear so many vets gripe about feeling out of place or missing the camraderie when all we need to do is figure out some time to go paintballing/pub crawling and make it happen. I think that student veterans are in a unique position to be able to participate and get involved in veteran groups and that these same groups that make campus life a little bit more enjoyable could also benefit from the support network for when PTSD rears its ugly head.
So I have talked about school but what about the guys that aren’t slacking, who get out and go straight to work on the civillian side? Same deal but you have to search a little harder for other vets. Finding a group of veterans is about the best thing you can do during your transition to being a dirty civi. It takes the fear factor out of the equation and gives you something that is recognizable as everything around does a 180. Believe me, the first time you realize that its just you who decides when to get up, life changing.
Summer school starts in less than a week for me and I am just trying to get my head right because I have been doing the army reserve thing this whole break. Its like rebooting, forget tact, common courtesy, replace sir, ma’am, or sarge with dude. Greetings of the day are replaced with subtle head tilts. I have to remind myself that all those things I keyed into when I was in or working at the unit, no longer matter and its not worth getting the blood pressure up for. Time to remember that I am just a student and that this professor doesn’t know that the guy sitting in seat 3A once ran gun trucks up and down some of the deadliest roads on the planet, and the student should try to not to get offended when the professor calls him son (doesn’t work/ worth-a-try). But all in all, college ain’t bad and what is a little difficult can be made easier by finding others to embrace the suck with or drowned the difficulties in a couple of beers with. So when it comes time to get out, remember to not cut all ties and burn all bridges because most times you will find yourself missing a little part of the old life even mixed in with the new school.