As I am sitting here trying to write this blog, I am trying to think how I can help a professor who has many hours of teaching students and framing their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. How can I help them understand what it might be like to be a Veteran in the classroom?
What comes to mind is a poem I heard in a video for the Marine Corps Birthday speech. As you read this poem, think about a Veteran you know and what it means to them to be a Veteran. The poem reads:
“It is the Warrior, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech, it is the Warrior who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag. He is the POW/MIA who went away one man or woman and came back another or hasn’t come back at all. It is the San Diego and Paris Island Drill Instructor who saved countless lives by turning average individuals into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s back. The Warrior is the parading legionnaire who pins on medals with a prosthetic hand, he or she is an ordinary and extraordinary human being who offered some vital years in the service of his or her country and who sacrificed lives ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice their own.” ~ Unknown
As you read that poem, how many of you thought about your brothers or sisters who served? How many of you thought about your father who served in Vietnam or your great-grandfather who served in World War II? Now let me ask you how many of you actually thought of a student in your classroom?
In order to understand who the Veteran in your classroom is, it is important to understand the statistics. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs there are over 660,000 undergraduate student Veterans, another 225,000 undergraduate students are military members on active duty or in the reserves. 73% of student Veterans are male and 27% are female. At the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay there are over 400 Student Veterans and dependents collecting military benefits. Other statistics include:
- Only 15% of student Veterans are traditionally aged college students (18-23).
- 31.4% are between the ages of 24 and 29.
- 28.2% are between the ages of 30 and 39.
- 24.9% are 40 or older.
- 47% of student Veterans have children.
- 47.3% of student Veterans are married.
- Only 35.3% are unmarried and without dependents.
The next step to understanding the Veteran in your classroom is to know that the term “Veteran” means something different to every Veteran. To me being a Veteran is something that I am proud of. I come from a long line of Marines. Earning the title Marine is one of the few things in my life I truly shed blood and tears to earn. To someone in the Army, Navy, or Air Force, being a Veteran may have a completely different meaning. We all have different experiences, we all come from different places, and we are all trained in different ways.
Knowing how to talk to a student Veteran is very important. For example, never ask a Veteran if they have killed someone. Bringing up your military history can be a good thing. It can help you relate and build a rapport or relationship with that student but please remember saying things like “I would have joined”, or “I almost joined”, or “I thought about it”, does not earn you any respect. In class, if you are reading or debating about the military or on the subject of war, be sure it is ok with the Veteran to talk about their experiences. He or she may not want to talk about it or may not be ready to do so. I cannot tell you how many times a professor has called on me in class thinking I am the expert about war or combat when I have never been there, but thinking that just because I am a Veteran I would have something to say about it.
If you truly want to understand a Veteran, know what branch of service they served in, and try to learn something about that branch. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines all serve under the Department of Defense, and are what makes our nation’s military but beyond that, each has its own mission, culture and identity. For example, as a Marine there is no bigger insult than being called a “Soldier.” Marines earn a title, it is something instilled in them from day one of boot camp. It is earned and not given. Other branches cannot relate to being a Marine, and a Marine cannot relate to other branches. They might be able to relate to military life, but someone in the Air Force will have an entirely different view and experience in the military than someone in the Marines or Army.
Once you understand the identity of your student Veteran and the culture they come from, it will help you understand why they are the way they are. In general, student Veterans are leaders and have been trained to be, so relying on them in the classroom is something that I would encourage, but only after you have spoken with them and have asked their permission.
Finally, I would like to say that I am very appreciative to have been offered the opportunity to write this blog post. I hope that I have been able to trigger some thoughts and ideas of how you can better communicate with your student Veterans. For this first blog post I kept it very general in nature and did not talk about other issues like Post Traumatic Stress in the classroom, or suicide awareness in Veterans. Hopefully in the future we can discuss those topics, but for now I would like you to think about ways you can communicate with your student Veteran.
If you have any ideas, thoughts, or workshop ideas, bring them to Elaina Koltz or me and we will be more than willing to provide the resources and tools to help you become better educators for our student Veterans.