UNF’s Veterans speak on student-veteran experience

Nick Blank

On Thursday, I stopped by the Military Veteran’s Resource Center, which provides assistance to help those who exchange the military for civilian life. The bookshelf is packed with autobiographies, strategies and a lot Tom Clancy. On top of the shelf, there’s a bust of UNF student and Marine Joshua Watkins, who lost his life in Iraq in 2006. Red, white and blue streamers hang from the ceiling and cake to celebrate the 341st birthday of the Marine Corp.

There’s an inter-service rivalry afoot, “more like siblings” one veteran tells me. Most servicemen and women will say the bonds formed with fellow soldiers, airman, marines or sailors was the most valuable part of their service. The Military Veteran’s Resource Center tries to emulate the camaraderie of armed forces to help with the transition that’s jarring to some.

Heading into next phase of their life, veterans turned students face some unique challenges: they’re going from a structured world emphasizing collective goals and order to a chaotic world of individual goals and choices.  UNF is consistently ranked one of the most military-friendly schools and dedicated Veterans Plaza to service members on Tuesday.

With Veterans Day upon us, here’s what a few had to say:

Photo by Nick Blank

Arnet Brantley, Army, Specialist

What drew you to the military?

“It’s a family tradition. It’s a tradition that one male from each generation serve in the Army or some fashion. My dad was in the Army, my grandpa was a bomber pilot in World War II and Korea. His father was in World War I in the trenches. It was thrusted on me as a child, but I took that mantle and grew into it. [Then] 9/11 happen. I was 11 and old enough to know what it meant. That was kind of the nail that guaranteed that was happening.”

Can you describe what the adjustment to civilian life is like?

“I got out Christmas day 2012. It was a little rough. It’s a different world and you don’t really notice it because it’s a gradual transition. You become it. Everyone’s situation is different. One day I was in, one day I was out. Any sudden change like that is a little rough: finding work, not having a group of people you can depend on with your life every day around you. “

What does UNF do for Veterans?

“I discovered it a year in. There wasn’t a lot of outreach, saying “Hey we have have this.” Since I’ve started working here, we’ve increased our presence a lot. UNF has the largest veteran population of any college in Florida: 1300 students are military-affiliated. That’s a very large number and it’s just getting larger.”

What does the Military Resource Center offer?

“It’s a haven for veterans to kind of get into a similar environment to the military as you can without being in the military. We all have similar backgrounds. The civilian world is so drastically different from the military, you’re trying to cope, be a student. It’s a lot more of a easy transition when you have someone who’s further along than you in the transition. That networking helps, I think that’s the biggest thing we offer here.”

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“As a kid, my family would honor those in our family who were veterans. I think a lot of people especially kids, mistake Veterans Day with Memorial Day. Veterans Day is honoring those that are still alive. For me it’s a day of saying, ‘I did my duty, I helped the process succeed.’ We just had an election Tuesday and win or lose, at least we still have that option. I think Veterans Day is an important day of reflection for honoring those that went a cut above the rest to make sure we live in a free country.”


Betty Prviette

Betty Privette, Navy, Petty Officer Second Class

What drew you to the military?

“I’m from Lubbock, TX., the home of Texas Tech. I spent 18 years there and I wanted to do something different so I did.”

Can you describe what the adjustment to civilian life is like?

“For me personally there wasn’t really an adjustment. I started my job when I was still going to the base everyday. I literally jumped from doing that to working at my civilian job.”

What does UNF do for Veterans?

“The amount of help they give everybody is tremendous. Everything from figuring out how the GI Bill works, they [the military] don’t really spell it out for you in a way you can understand it and utilize it in a proper way. That [help the MVRC gives] goes for housing, that goes for the VA, all of your classes. They help so much.”

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“It’s a celebration for me personally of having the ironic freedom back. What that means is, in the military you get your nights, weekends and whole chunks taken out by going out on deployments or going on duty. For me, it’s celebrating I have my own freedom back. Being able to go home everyday and have those liberties that you wouldn’t think would get taken away but are.”


ozea brown courtesy of UNF

Ozea Brown, Air Force, Tech Sergeant

What drew you to the military?

“I went to college immediately after high school and didn’t do terribly well. I dropped out. I knew that I needed to find a career. I went to a recruiter’s office and the Air Force seemed like the best fit for my goals as well as the lifestyle seemed like the most appealing to me.”

Can you describe what the adjustment to civilian life is like?

“There are a lot of challenges. A lot of things in military can be frustrating but there is a general path you can go through. There’s always knowledge of what should be coming after. In the civilian world, things are a lot more elastic. There’s a lot of freedom in that, but there’s a lot of challenges in where to go and what comes next.”

What do you do at the resource center?

“We answer questions about the GI bill, about the military transition and just life at UNF. We get a lot of people who walk in saying, “I’m getting out of the military and I want to go to UNF, what do I do?”

Name some of the major challenges that veterans face.

“For some of the older folks, the one’s that retired they’re used to being in charge, they’re used to having a say in how things go and having their directive followed. They’re going from having 20 or 200 people under them to sitting in a class with people that are 20-years-old and don’t have the same life experiences. That can be really frustrating for people.

“You know it’s losing that sense of camaraderie where everyone is working together, even if it’s not the same job, it’s the same mission. Everyone around you has made that choice to serve. There’s a diversity of experience, diversity of opinion and diversity of purpose. A lot of veterans have a challenge with not everyone being on the same page.”

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“It’s a mix. A lot of people will post on Facebook, ‘Thanks to all the veterans.’ Some people just want to go to Applebee’s to get free food. I usually try to think of the veterans I know. My dad’s a vet. My friends that are deployed, I try to think of them on Veterans Day. Being aware that it’s a distinct group the number of people who choose to serve is small and it’s getting smaller as forces draw down. Those generations who previously fought are being lost to us. The circle kind of gets smaller and smaller. It’s a choice and it’s a tough choice to make.”


Ian Church

Ian Church, Marines, Lance Corporal

What drew you to the military?

“Just about every male in my family has been in some branch. Basically my family said, ‘if you’re going to join the military, whatever you do, don’t join the Marine Corp. I said “Ok, that’s the one I’m going into, see you later.” The training, the honor, the toughness, the traditions. It’s second to none. I joined in 2001, my best friends are guys I served with back then. I just visited my old squad leader and I’m the godfather to his son.”

Can you describe what the adjustment to civilian life is like?

“It wasn’t horrible. The hardest part for me was that I missed my friends. You’re used to that tight unit cohesion where Monday through Friday you’re training and you’re suffering together, but when the weekend came, you were all partying together. You could literally start walking down the cat walk and start knocking on doors, ‘What are you doing, what are doing.’ You were never alone if you didn’t want to be alone. [It was tough] to go to my home state in New York and all my best friends were either still in [service] or they’re scattered throughout the country. It’s like the friends you had from high school, you’re still friends with them, but it’s never the same again.”

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“A lot of people get confused with the difference between Veterans day and Memorial Day. Veterans Day is a day to remember you served, who who served and the people you sacrificed. I’ll always have a beer to toast it. ”


Rick Tryon

Rick Tryon, Marines, Lieutenant General (three stars)

What drew you to the military?

“You’ve either got to be recruited or you’ve got to have to have the DNA in your body saying I always wanted to be a soldier, sailor, airman, marine or coast guardsman. I always wanted to be in the military. I thought I wanted to be in the Army growing up. My dad was a career soldier.”

Can you describe what the adjustment to civilian life is like?

“After serving 44 years and getting up everyday and putting a uniform on, yes. There was a significant cultural transition for me. I came from a world where everyone wanted to be there, and motivated toward service. It was an environment that was very comfortable and you get used to over time. Coming into the civilian sector there are a lot things that motivate people: it might be money, it might be power, it might be position– they would be distractions in the military. There’s a lot of bureaucracy on the outside, I’m still looking for somebody in charge. I’d be less than honest if I said I didn’t miss it [the Marine Corp] everyday. You can’t turn back the clock, so you do things that are meaningful to you. I find teaching meaningful.”

What does UNF do for Veterans?

“I’m really impressed with what I saw [ at the MVRC]. Sometimes I’m over there hooking and jabbing with the other services, reminding them that the Marine Corp is really the best. It’s a good inter-service rivalries. If anyone needs help I want them to be comfortable and come to me. North Florida is very user-friendly for our veterans.”

Name some of the major challenges that veterans face.

“Military personnel are very mission-oriented and they want to get onto things right away. They want to fight through the curriculum and the programs. The skill sets they’ve picked up on active duty drive them a little bit of a different tempo than the younger students. They’ve gone through pretty significant experience in their life that has a tendency to mature them a little bit. ”

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“Veterans Day is a big deal. We’ve been an all-volunteer force in the United States since 1973. Two generations have grown up now where serving in the military is no longer a common experience. There’s a lot of what I characterize as ‘honest ignorance’ by younger generations about the U.S Armed Forces. That’s not a criticism that’s just the way the military and society has gone. When that legislation was enacted, seventy percent of congress were veterans. Today, 20 percent of the Senate and 18 percent of the House of Representatives are veterans. So you can see the distinction in the role of veterans in our society. The U.S military has gotten considerably smaller since 1973. If I had a concern, our society is growing away from our veteran population a little bit. It’s very important we stay together.”

 

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