What happens when seasoned combat veterans mix with fresh-face 18-year-olds on the country’s college campuses?
More than half a million military members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the service and entered college.
As Daniel Zwerdling reported on National Public Radio, on one college campus the veterans are struggling to fit in as the staff struggles to serve the new students.
At Sierra Community College, about an hour from Sacramento in Rocklin, Calif., there are hundreds of new kinds of students mixed in with the 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. Like James Reimers, who just turned 25. He was running patrols in Baghdad when many of his classmates were in the fifth grade.
“Some people walking around, they have like, Mohawks, and a nose ring, and like, a chain coming out of their ear,” Reimers says. “It makes you feel like you don’t fit in here. Just, like, what’s going on?”
But budget constraints prevented the college from setting up a student veterans office. So, an academic adviser gathered volunteers and opened one in a donated space.
“I had so many guys telling me that they were actually more afraid of going to college than they were in combat,” said Catherine Morris, an academic adviser at Sierra College.
Morris also started holding workshops for the faculty to help them understand problems vets have. She got the college to let vets sign up for classes before other students, so they don’t have the stress of getting bumped. She persuaded the VA to send two counselors to Sierra, one day every week, so vets can have therapy sessions right on campus. And Morris has persuaded her bosses to let her work almost full time giving academic counseling just to vets. For one thing, they need it to figure out the GI Bill.
You can read and listen to the story of veterans attending Sierra College at NPR.