There is a creature, which is seldom understood, that roams the campus of CSU. The sightings of these beings are much more common than those of unicorns, but are no less majestic than a glimpse of Sasquatch frolicking through a forest. These noble beings can commonly be identified by MultiCam ball-caps, coyote or digital camo backpacks, tan boots tainted by sweat or burnt human feces, or charcoal from Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suits.
Although they have their identifiers, they are experts blending into the environment mainly because they are made up from all walks of life. This special breed I am talking about are the military veteran students of CSU.
Chances are you have had at least one class with a veteran; they could have been in the back completely silent and observant, maybe very vocal and painfully blunt, or could have been very friendly and helpful in class. Why is this group of students so special? They have every obstacle that a traditional student has—as well as a few others. Some of these veterans are also mothers, fathers, wives, or husbands as well as being students. I’m stressed with the rent around every 1st of the month; so are these folks, and they also have to worry about kids, spouses, mortgages, and all sorts of other bills that come with them.
The Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen we see on this campus had to earn their way to higher education. Some have even put in 20 years in the service before they came here.
A stalwart member of the veteran community of CSU is Raleigh Heekin. He retired after 20 years in the Army, has a wife and kids, has been deployed, has been to combat, and was blown up and injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed some of his friends. Now he is studying with us and has every excuse to be the most disgruntled student at CSU. Yet this man is friendly and sociable to his fellow students (which by age most could be his children), and finds time to be heavily involved in local charity organizations. You can find him walking to and from class smiling with his golden lab service dog, Winnie the Pooh, who has become somewhat of a local celebrity in our community.
I look up to him, for if I had the same life experiences I do not believe that I could be as friendly or as beneficial to the community as he is.
People like Raleigh bring me to my main point, which is that having these veteran students in your academic lives is very rewarding to your schooling and your personal development. I speak from my own experience, for I am only an ROTC cadet, but since working in the Adult Learners and Veteran Services Office here at CSU, I have found that I have grown as a human being in ways I did not expect. Some of the vital lessons I have learned for being a future officer in the Army, I have learned by surrounding myself with this special breed of student—maybe even more so than in the lessons of formal ROTC.
I want to encourage students of CSU to seek out this experience for yourselves. Now, just walking up to a veteran can be awkward or intimidating, which is natural especially if you have nothing in common. Just remember that these veterans are normal people too. That being said, just like normal people, some do not want to be bothered—and that’s fine. Leave that person alone and find someone else who might be more interested in a reciprocal conversation. The following is some advice to make the interaction between both parties as smooth and as beneficial as possible.
Do not ask if they have killed. Regardless how bad of an idea it might seem to ask this of a person, this question is unfortunately asked a lot. There are three responses you will receive: the individual did not kill anyone and they could feel their service was incomplete because were not forced into that situation. Or, the veteran may have killed and is processing living with that experience—and they certainly don’t want to explain themselves to you. Or, you might get the person who is angry that it wasn’t them who got the first Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) spoon kill. As the saying goes, the Rangers lead the way on that one by shoving a plastic spoon in the neck of the enemy until dead during a room breach.
Other things you shouldn’t say when talking to a veteran can be answered in Ranger Up’s video “Sh*t Veterans Want to Say (AKA The Veteran’s Inner Monologue),” on YouTube. I highly recommend checking it out.
Do not ask if they have PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) does not present itself in different people in the exact same way. It’s very complicated and its symptoms depend on the person, their experiences, and internal/external methods to managing PTSD. It is impossible and foolish to mark a veteran with PTSD. Furthermore, to ask someone you suspect is jaded if they have PTSD is as polite as asking someone you think is mentally disabled if they are retarded.
Listen to Them. Even if they don’t have any crazy war stories, they will have plenty of funny garrison stories because military folk get mischievous when bored. You also will probably get some solid life advice. Either way, talking to a vet is a win-win: for you and for them as they like to share some of their experiences to those who want to listen.
Team up for projects. As mentioned earlier, these veterans had to earn their way to school and they take it seriously. These are the people you want on your team because they work hard and are driven. However don’t assume that means you don’t have to put in your share of the work and you can ride on their backs, because veterans will call you out and they will hit you with the cold hard truth—there is no sugar coating if you are slacking.
By and large, veterans here at CSU are hardworking students that are also generally good-hearted people. I recommend you talk to some of them; they are interesting to listen to and there is a great chance that it will be a positive experience for you as a person. Surround yourself with driven, quality people and you will see that it will better you as a person and as a student.
Collegian Columnist Micah Maffeo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @micahmaffeo.