Deployed to the Green Zone

The Maryville College Student Veterans Association (SVA) in conjunction with East Tennessee PBS, WUOT 91.9 FM, and Landgrant Films, sponsored a special event at Lawson Auditorium on Oct. 2 for their program, “Veterans Coming Home: Finding What Works.”

Students, staff, faculty and the general public were invited to get familiar with programs and services that have proven to support Veteran reintegration, therapy and re-training. The event included recorded interviews of Veterans who talk about what works for them in civilian life. These interviews will air on Knoxville’s public radio station on and around Veterans Day 2018.

Several veteran-focused service providers were there to answer questions and provide information about the resources and programs they provide. This training resembled “Green Zone” training some of the veterans are familiar with. A Green Zone is a semi-safe area within hostile territory. The International Zone of Baghdad is probably the most well-known. But the term is loosely applied to any area other than the Red Zones or unsecured areas.

Maryville College is a Green Zone for more than 50 veterans this semester. We are most definitely non-traditional students and we bring a lot of experience and knowledge to campus. We also bring unique perspectives unfamiliar to many.

For those who have not served in the military, we can be something of a mystery. The following information was adapted from the Maryland Veterans Resilience Initiative which was designed to strengthen behavioral health services and peer support for Maryville’s veterans and their families and apply to all veterans. Part of that study included a summary of things that make veterans unique.

Student veterans are member of a brotherhood or sisterhood. Like any other family it is forever. The popular cliché, “once a soldier, always a soldier” is true for every branch of military service. No matter who you enter as, you come out different and, in many ways, better. Only those who have the same experience can fully understand and appreciate who they are.

They add tremendous value to the classroom. Their global experience, leadership skills, discipline, focus, and ability to work under pressure sets them up for success. The training and experiences associated with military service are vastly different than high school graduates.

They are a diverse group with respect to their personal backgrounds and capabilities. While there are commonalities in military experience, each veteran is unique. Veterans, often feel isolated on campus. They are older and have had different life experiences than their classmates. This affects their perspectives and values.

Veterans can add real life experience to courses that focus on military issues and policies. Many are much more familiar with history, government and politics than the average high school grad. Instructors can ask veterans about how they wish to participate.

Offering veterans a chance to talk about their experiences exposes classmates to a different perspective. Not every veteran, even those who are outspoken in class, may prefer to talk about their time in the military. It may be hard for someone that’s never been there to fully comprehend.

“When someone asks me what it was like,” said Chris Wheat, sophomore in Exercise science. “I want to tell them, sign up, go to combat then come back and we’ll talk about it.”

Many of our veterans have been in extremely stressful situations. It is inappropriate to claim to understand stressful events that you have not experienced. If you have not personally been in combat, don’t pretend you know what it’s like or how it may affect a veteran. Some tend to assume things about veterans and that is just as inappropriate as labeling members of any other group.

Veterans tend to be serious about college. Thus, they may become irritated with fellow students who demonstrate a lack of respect for their teachers or a lack of commitment to class assignments

“As I transitioned, like many, I struggled to find my identity and purpose”, said Jim Humphrey, veteran and Maryville College faculty member. “One of the key drivers for us is that of mission. We must have a goal in front of us at all times to maintain forward momentum.”

Veterans may also be frustrated by small-group class projects that drag on for long periods given their past experiences of working quickly to achieve a goal. Some have been forced to organize, plan and execute critical (life-or-death) assignments under extreme time pressure.

Many recent veterans have been deployed and many have experienced combat situations. While they may not have suffered personal injuries, they are likely to have friends who were injured or killed. Some veterans may also have experienced sexual trauma while in the military. These and other service-related stressors result in physical and/or mental trauma. Dealing with them is often a lifelong challenge.

Veterans are typically independent, mentally tough and taught to be self-reliant. Thus, it may be difficult for them to ask for help or an accommodation. Even if it would enhance their academic success they might consider it a sign of weakness. Often because of their want to be independent, they do not even wonder what help is available.

Getting an appointment with the Veterans Health Administration (VA) can sometimes result in scheduling conflicts. Accommodating veterans’ appointments is sometimes necessary. Teachers who are flexible when it comes to these medical appointments are greatly appreciated. While most veterans do not want to miss class, they must often attend designated appointments to stay current with their health care and benefits.

Some student veterans are uncomfortable in crowds or sitting with strangers behind them. Some react differently to sudden, unexpected loud noises. Some veterans will prefer to sit in the back of the class or with a wall behind them. Some may benefit by having a service animal in class or may request other accommodations.

“The major differences between military transition and other vocations is my tempo, intensity and 100% trust/commitment to those to your left and right.”

Student veterans are one of the nation’s greatest untapped resources. Providing them with respect, understanding, and support, honors their service and helps them to succeed in college. This enables them to contribute to their communities in new and meaningful ways.

Special thanks to contributors Ted Higgs and Kathy Wilson.

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