Over the next five years, more than one million men and women will leave the military and re-enter civilian life. For some, that is not an easy transition.
But there’s a program to help. The national, Got Your 6 campaign partners Hollywood with veterans groups. Their focus is helping veterans reintegrate in their communities through jobs, education, health, housing, family, and leadership.
The education component is in practice in more than 100 universities. It’s a campaign where student veterans instruct faculty and staff about their experiences so educators and advisors can help student veterans adjust to campus life and the classroom.
Student veterans at the University of South Florida are holding weekly Got Your 6 classes this summer. The three-hour session is voluntary, yet it is attracting a lot of participants.
“I realized I had a lot of student veterans that I didn’t know anything about,” said Alyssa Thomas, an academic advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences who attended a class in June. “I had no idea what the deployment cycle looked like. I had no idea that at any time these guys could get a call saying, ‘Hey life is different now, time to go back.’ That’s a hard way to live your life not knowing.”
Having civilians understand veterans’ experiences is at the core of the Got Your 6 – a military term which means I’ve got your back.
Class participants are also given a list of veterans’ resources like tutors and mentors who can assist with a student veteran with any issue.
Director of USF’s Office of Veterans Services, Dr. Larry Braue, said the student veterans’ create their own outline and teach the class.
“It’s really about getting them to tell their story,” Braue said. “When we worked with the Got Your Six folks, they said it was important to have the veterans developing the curriculum and teaching it.”
Their advice: helping a veteran could be as simple as understanding that many suffer from hearing loss and need to sit up close in the classroom or as complex navigating VA education benefits.
Marine Reservist and USF criminology student Patrick Schweickart likes standing in front of a classroom.
“I guess the word is humbling to be able to switch the roles with faculty and staff and have them be as engaged with you as you are when you’re in their classrooms or in their office,” Schweickart said.
At the top of his list of things he wants civilains to know, “Veterans are not victims.”
His Got Your 6 co-teacher, Army veteran Oliver Lima, was most passionate when advising the class on the three things you should never say to a student veteran.
- Don’t give your opinion on the wars such as “These wars were an atrocity and a waste of life.”
- Don’t say, “I don’t get why you’re having so much trouble, you volunteered right?” The answer is yes, but they tell you you’re going to do all this cool stuff, they don’t tell you all the other stuff that’s going to happen.
- Don’t ask, “Did you kill anyone?”
After completing the class, each of the advisors and staff were given a Got Your 6 sticker to display in their office. It’s a badge of honor and a sign to student veteran that this is a place where he or she can seek help.