Tell us about yourself:
I served as a Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) with the 75th Ranger Regiment for the bulk of my time in the military. I guess at some point I decided that I needed to test my myself and my limits, and the Rangers presented me with that opportunity again and again. I’m not a particularly outgoing or adventurous person otherwise, so sometimes I look back at my time in service and wonder what exactly motivated me to take on such a challenging lifestyle. I’m more than happy I did it though, because the experiences and relationships I developed in the regiment are totally irreplaceable to me and I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like had I not done it.
What prompted you to return to school?
Basically, I left the military and wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Even though I had a ton of unique medical experience, I still needed to get an undergraduate degree and apply to medical school the traditional way. My plans have since changed, but that was the initial push that got me interested in college.
Why did you choose Brown University ?
I had been having some difficulties settling into the typical public education format. What I mean by that is I didn’t feel comfortable taking classes from Group A, B, and C. It just didn’t seem okay to be forced to take coursework in something I didn’t find interesting because that’s what the curriculum dictated. The educators that formed that curriculum didn’t know me, and they didn’t know what was best for me. A good friend of mine sympathized with me and recommended I apply to the Resumed Undergraduate Education program at Brown University. I took one look at the open curriculum and started working on my application.
What military education benefits, such as the GI Bill, did you use?
I’ve been using the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill since I started college, and it’s really made this whole thing possible for me. I also received the Army College Fund for enlisting in what was at the time a critical MOS, which has afforded me an extra stipend every month. All in all I couldn’t ask for more out of the educational benefits I’m receiving.
What has your experience been like as a student?
Brown is really open and accepting campus, but still, the transition wasn’t easy. I didn’t realize at the time I started here what a lifelong journey it would be leaving the military and my six combat tours. At some point, you look around and it’s easy to feel like there’s nobody within shouting distance who can empathize with you. That’s a challenge I think most veterans face, be it at school or in the workplace. Luckily for me though, I have a great support structure and am fortunate to attend a school where people genuinely try to understand diverse experiences.
What challenges did you have adjusting to campus culture after military life?
In the military, nothing is off limits. Some of the stuff that was said to me during my time with the Rangers was just awful. But that’s the life and the culture, and when you live your life either in combat or training for it, you can’t be sensitive about words. Compare that with campus life and there’s some stark differences. Words mean a lot more here. I had to change the way I communicated and got my point across. I think you also face some of the stigmas that accompany military service. Nobody says it directly, but I’m sure my classmates wonder about my experiences, whether I have PTSD, whether I’ve killed someone. Learning to construct my own narrative and let everyone know that, hey, I’ve been in combat, I’m affected, but no, I’m not dangerous or volatile, is one of the most important things a veteran can do.
Do you believe your military experience has made you a better student?
No, not really. I had a tendency to feel like my work was pretty trivial at first. I felt like in my old job tests were important, in some cases life or death. But now, if I get a bad grade, nobody dies and nobody suffers but me. So that was a tough transition for me, learning to take my education seriously.
What advice do you have for veterans returning to school?
Get out there and answer questions. I think a lot of the disconnects between veterans and non-veterans stem from the fact that some of our experiences are so taboo to talk about. Figure out how to explain your time in service in a way that’s not painful or traumatic to you, and let people hear it. I think people really legitimately want to know about the military, so informing and educating them is one of the best things we can do to improve our situation. Also, figure out how to manage your time and develop a system that works. In the military, someone managed my time for me, and in college, you have plenty of time to procrastinate.