College is often a transitional time for students as many move away from home and learn to live on their own for the first time. For the select group of students that are enrolling in college after serving in the military, the transition can be a form of culture shock.
The California State University system has made a concerted effort to make service members’ transition to civilian life a smooth one, but the shift is often problematic for students who don’t feel equipped with the resources or social skills to forge their own path at school.
“I had a hard time adjusting to civilian life when I enrolled at CSUS in the winter of 2009. I had trouble with how unstructured it was, but I found the Veterans Affairs Office and Nadine helped me a lot by going through paperwork with me and just being there to help me process the change,” said Jose Garcia, a veteran Marine and current CSUS student.
Nadine Kent is the Veteran Affairs coordinator at CSUS and helps facilitate opportunities for student veterans by connecting them with organizations in the area. The Veteran Affairs Office paired up with the Troops to College committee to host the Thank a Veteran event on campus Wednesday morning. Kent has built a rapport with veteran organizations, several of which made an appearance by setting up a booth at the event such as the Modesto Vet Center, Red Cross, and VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
Two students and service members, Jaime Kulik and David Contreras, performed the flag raising ceremony at the event and commented on the positive effects that their military education has had on their lives.
“Being in the Marines made me a better person. It teaches you discipline, how to maintain commitments and has made me a better student. The military really gives you perspective,” said Contreras.
While the military does afford students the structure and reliability many young people desire, reintegrating into society can pose its own set of issues. Many older veterans attended the event and noted the importance of a strong support system for returning veterans.
“You operate at such a level of danger that the peace and quiet can become disorienting. Civilian life becomes an unreal world,” said Vaughn Gates, VFW Commander of District 13 in Tracy.
CSUS has made exemplary efforts to accommodate its student veterans. These efforts have elevated CSUS into the spotlight as a military friendly school for the past three years, recognized by Victory Media and KMI Media Group, two companies that publish for military audiences. The university also recently received a $35,000 grant from nonprofit Swords to Plowshares. The funds will go towards developing the school’s Women Warrior Program which aims to address the specific needs of female veterans. The university also aims to educate student veterans in an ongoing basis to make the students comfortable so that they can succeed and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them.
“It can be very difficult for some students to ask for help. Students often don’t get involved or seek out other veterans because they think that they are too young, but that is not the case. We try and connect them with agencies and have the Veterans of Foreign Wars make a bigger presence on campus, because these students are the future VFW,” said Kent.
Ron Richter, Commander of VFW Post 3199 in Modesto, attended Wednesday's campus event and noted that younger veterans need to become more involved as well.
“We have a real need for people to get more involved and get new blood and ideas. We need the young guys,” said Richter.