There’s a period of adjustment every student veteran needs as they transition from the military to the classroom. It can last several months to several years, and everyone goes through it at his or her own pace, with some never getting out of it. It is especially evident in vets who’ve had combat arms jobs or multiple deployments, though everyone is different.
Many of us can be defensive about a lot of topics, especially pertaining to our previous jobs. This isn’t necessarily because we’re aggressive about being in the military; rather, it’s because we don’t feel secure in our new environment. That includes everything from deciding what to wear in the morning — after all, that’s a new choice for us — to whether that scream we just heard is someone in distress and if we should go investigate it.
If I had to share one thing with others, it would be that student veterans are people first. People tend to see us through the prism of our service instead of who we are.
We might seem defensive or uncommunicative, but that’s often because we simply can’t explain something.
One day, a cashier at a campus eatery asked me if the “V” over an American flag on my T-shirt was for someone. The “V” stood for my former section leader, Sgt. Vassilian, who was shot and killed in Afghanistan, and the shirt was a memorial. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her any of this, so I just said “It’s for my former boss,” left the cafeteria and almost had a meltdown while eating my meal. I just couldn’t tell her about him, and I couldn’t expect her to reasonably understand any of what he or I went through.
But through it all, we prevail.
In a single day, I might be completing my Farsi or Pashtu homework, teaching someone how to properly and safely handle a firearm, going to a potluck or watching TV.
I’m focused on what I want to achieve and do my best to prepare myself for what needs to be done in order to achieve a goal. I’m direct. I don’t like to beat about the bush. That’s why I have a hard time with a lot of academic papers and articles — because they exist in this grey area, whereas I have a deep appreciation of the black-and-white of things.
To take the classroom without walls principle to the extreme, there is a photograph that really speaks to me because of the context it was taken and the time of my service.
It’s a photograph of me in full battle gear handing some chocolates to a young Afghan girl with her brother. It is a stark comparison between me with over 300 rounds of ammunition, full body armor and a light machine gun — essentially a war machine — next to a girl who is devoid of anything to do with violence, international policy and warfare.
Being in Afghanistan has influenced my world view and life in ways that I am still learning to appreciate, as is my time here at IU Bloomington.