Reaching Student Veterans with Tutoring, Jobs, Events

USF Army ROTC Battalion Commander Victor Benoit talks with Army veteran Rachael Meyer who was staffing the SVA table at the barbecue event.

USF Army ROTC Battalion Commander Victor Benoit talks with Army veteran Rachael Meyer who was staffing the SVA table at the barbecue event.

Students returned to campus this week at the University of South Florida in Tampa and among them are an estimated 1,700 veterans transitioning from active duty military to college student.

At a welcome back barbecue on campus Thursday, student veteran Victor Benoit collected a free shirt from the USF Student Veterans Association (SVA). He is a former Army military police soldier and a USF criminology major.

“It’s a totally different lifestyle between military and being back in school. Some people say it’s hard,” Benoit said. “It’s a case by case basis and whether you’re an adaptive person.”

Benoit said he had a fairly easy transition partially because he joined the U.S. Army ROTC where he now serves as battalion commander. So, Benoit will return to active duty when he graduates this winter instead of joining the SVA.

Patrick Schweikart, a USF SVA leader, said the chapter hopes to double its registered members by spring semester.

Patrick Schweikart, a USF SVA leader, said the chapter hopes to double its registered members by spring semester.

The organization is reaching out to student veterans by adding services like a tutoring program and partnerships with local businesses that may offer internships.

“Community outreach with getting vets jobs is another big push,” said SVA leader Patrick Schweikart.

The USF chapter leadership spent their summer doing outreach. Schweikart and SVA president Ray Mollison taught about 200 USF faculty and staff how to help student vets transition into college with their “Got Your 6” workshops. And former SVA president Kiersten Downs biked across America helping to raise money and visibility for the USF chapter.

“Our chapter here is really like a spearhead for the national chapter because so much of what we have done and are doing and continue to do,” Scheikart said.

SVA members Rachael Meyer and Justin Marin hold up the free t-shirt being handed out to student vets with an ID.

SVA members Rachael Meyer and Justin Marin hold up the free t-shirt being handed out to student vets with an ID.

Those activities include community service like a tree planting event that the city of Temple Terrace invited USF student veterans to attend and the 2013 Run for the Wounded.

And there are career focused events like the internship fair, Tampa Bay Tech forum,  scheduled September 10, 2013 for USF student veterans studying engineering and technology.

But Schweikart said they’re big, renewed goal this year is getting in-state tuition for Florida’s student veterans. For a second year in a row, the Florida legislature failed to pass a bill that would have given student veterans in-state tuition.

You can hear the radio version of this story on the WUSF website.

An Army Mom Transitions from The Citadel to Ft. Benning

The Citadel Georgia Class of 2015. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

I’m living in the in-between times of being the mom of a cadet at The Citadel and being the mom of a newly commissioned second lieutenant in Armor branch training at Ft. Benning, GA.

My son graduated in May of this year. With his graduation, I passed off my volunteer parent baton to a new coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group and the Area Rep coordinator position I held with the Citadel Family Association.  Fortunately, the Atlanta Citadel Club has made it clear just because my son has graduated doesn’t mean I can’t attend their functions as the parent of a graduate. The new coordinator of the Georgia Parents Group has also included me in her parent orientation meeting which helped ease me out of my role as coordinator and into the role of coordinator emeriti.

Dorie Grigg's son, Nelson, is in the top row second from the left. The photo is from the Facebook Page of Lightning Troop 2-16 CAV.

It is fun to know he is there with about 20 other 2011 graduates. I jokingly call Ft. Benning The Citadel west since the guys all live in the same apartment complex in Columbus while they are going through training.

To help me move into the role of support person in Georgia, I attended the Cadet Send off Event, hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club, one last time. The event held at a local restaurant was well attended.  Like my son’s year, the summer of 2007, the new families were anxious to learn all they could to be prepared for Matriculation Day. I gave the new families a card with links to my blog entries for Off the Base so they could access the helpful links to the Nice to Have List and the Survival tips located under CFA benefits on the CFA home page.

Thanks to the Citadel Alumni Association Facebook page administrator, the entry titled, A Letter to the Class of 2015, has been widely read and circulated. In writing these entries, it is my hope that the new parents will feel a bit more comfortable and prepared with the process of getting a child ready to report to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

Georgia Citadel parents and Knobs gather for dinner at Dorie Grigg's home. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In an effort to ease my transition further, we hosted a potluck dinner recently for the Georgia families. It was a great opportunity to see everyone in a relaxed environment without worrying about the hectic on campus schedule or the anxiety of dropping your cadet off for Matriculation Day. About 35 people came to the house. I invited some incoming cadets, or knobs as they will be known their first year, and their families.  We spent a few hours catching up or meeting friends we’ve only seen on Facebook. The new families learned that when your child attends The Citadel you enter a group of supportive families. Many of the people I’ve come to know the past four years I know will be friends for life.

The Citadel Bravo Moms Marie Dopson sitting, Dorie Griggs (left) standing and Anita Mag (right) standing. All of their sons are, or have been, company clerks for Bravo Company. Nelson was the senior mentor to Marie’s son, Brian.

Now that the two send off events have taken place, I’ve settled back into the wait and watch stage of begin the mom of a second lieutenant in training. Fortunately, the U.S. Army has embraced social media. I’ve found the Facebook groups for my sons training unit and for the Ft. Benning Family Readiness Group. Reading these sites I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve even gotten to see photos of my son and his unit while they train.

Ft. Benning is only a couple of hours from our house, but Nelson doesn’t get home much. When he’s been home, it’s to attend a Braves game or go out with friends. Phone calls have been a bit more frequent, but they are short and matter of fact calls.

Last night I sent a text asking how the weekend training exercise went.  His response was short and to the point. “Good. Blew stuff up.” They are learning to drive and operate the tanks. I found a video from their media day to give me an idea of what he was talking about.

The text was followed by a short phone call. The call I was told to expect. He was in the middle of filling out forms, one of which is for death benefits distribution. He needed some personal information from me about the family. While I didn’t struggle with the call, it struck me then that we are all in the real Army now. We’ve completed the training at The Citadel and this is the real thing.

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

In two months, my son will graduate from the Citadel and also be commissioned as a 2LT in the Army. I find myself filled with a jumble of emotions. While he has been the one to endure the many challenges of the 4th Class System and succeed, I feel like I’ve gone through my own type of training.

Long time friends reunite, L-R Doug Christ, Michelle “Chelle” Leary, named for Michelle “Chelle” Chaudoin, Gwen Lynch Christ, Dorie Griggs.

After a recent conversation with a Brigadier General, I realize my training as an Army mom began when my son was in JROTC in high school. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with the General on the transport train at the Atlanta airport. I made a joke of how I have found ways to learn about the Army training, much to the chagrin of my son. The General laughed and said HIS mother still has her ways to find out things about him.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to learn about the process to better understand and support my son. My years as a volunteer in the Citadel Family Association and with the Atlanta Citadel Club’s parent group has proven that you should never underestimate the abilities of a mother to support their children. I made some wonderful friends the past several years. As I wrote about in a previous post, The Citadel Ya-Ya’s continue to be a source of friendship and support even after many of the group now have graduates of The Citadel.

There are so many neat friendships that I can’t list them all. A couple of people really do stand out though because I’ve been reunited with long time friends through our cadets.

Last year some time in the early fall, I received an email asking if I am the same Dorie Griggs that went to Sparta High School in Sparta, NJ. I am. The note came from a long time friend Gwen Lynch Christ.  It turns out her oldest son was a knob (first year cadet) last year. She saw my name of some Citadel Family Association correspondence and had to reach out.

Friends Gwen, Chelle and Dorie from 1979. Five months later, May 4, 1980, Chelle Chaudoin died in an airplane collision.

The last time I remember seeing Gwen was in December of 1979.  We were at our friend Chelle Chaudoin’s house. I’ve had a photo of us from that night on my desk for almost 30 years. Our friend Chelle died 5 months after the photo was taken in an airplane collision while she was at Arizona State. Chelle’s mother put the photo in a collage for me with a few other photos.

As life happens, I was in school in Virginia and rarely went back to NJ to visit. Gwen stayed in the north to finish school, work, marry, and raise her family. Here we are 30+ years later in regular contact because of our children. Gwen’s son Andrew is also in the Army ROTC at The Citadel, so we are both future Army moms too.

Years ago, I met a great friend when by the luck of the draw she was assigned to my younger son as his occupational therapist. Marie McKenzie Dopson worked with Taylor for a few years. We developed a friendship, but after Taylor no longer needed therapy on a regular basis, we saw each other less often.

Bravo Company Moms, Dorie Griggs and Marie McKenzie Dopson.

Well this past summer, I found out we’d be in touch regularly again when Marie’s son’s name appeared on the list of incoming knobs at The Citadel. Marie attended the orientation I hosted in June for incoming knobs. We marveled how life has a way of bringing friends together, but we had no idea what would happen in just a few months.

Marie’s son was assigned to the same company as my son. On Matriculation Day, the day first year cadets report, I told my son he knew the mother of one of the knobs. (Nelson would attend the therapy sessions with his younger brother years ago.) Apparently my little heads up to Nelson didn’t register. About a month later during a brief phone call, Nelson told me he selected his new knob mentee.  His name is Dopson, he said.  He is Marie’s son! The mentoring relationship solidifies friendships between cadets. Our sons will be friends for life, therefore connecting us as well.

The ties between the cadets at The Citadel are very strong. No one else besides the graduates who wear the ring can truly understand the bond that is formed from that shared experience.

The parents of the cadets may understand that bond better than anyone.

Previous posts by Dorie Griggs:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

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