For Memorial Day, Clark’s Veterans Resource Center and Veterans Club remembered fallen heroes by posting 250 American flags in a star-shape surrounding a cross near Clark’s chime tower from May 25 to May 27. Students were encouraged to tag personal notes to the flags that honored a veteran or showed support for them.
Christian Jamieson, vice president of Clark’s Veterans Club and a student ambassador, says that as a Marine reservist, Memorial Day is a reminder “to not forget what my real purpose is — which is to be part of this force of readiness in the event I have to defend against an enemy, foreign or domestic.”
Jamieson also encouraged everyone to check in with veteran friends or family over the holiday.
“This could be a really hard day for them, remembering the brothers and sisters they lost,” Jamieson said. “They may seem tough, but people aren’t always the same inside as they seem on the outside.”
Before the VRC’s establishment in January 2014, some veterans may have felt uncomfortable transitioning from the “rigid” and “non-democratic” environment of the military to the open environment of college life, as described by VRC Manager Sgt. Major Kelly Jones.
“Rigid. No free thinking. Structure and discipline. Strong bonds and camaraderie.” That is how Jones described military culture. For her, structure and discipline are familiar and comforting, so she’s integrated that into her life as an Army veteran.
However, others may have difficulty letting go completely of the control, and are “left to their own devices,” Jones said.
On the flip side, some veterans may have had a negative experience during their service, and would like to move on to the next stage in their life: college.
Jones said the VRC provides a comfortable place for veterans to go where “people know what they’re saying without needing to explain and use military jargon.” It can be a safe space for many who may share or identify with the select experiences within the military.
David Laux, an on-and-off student, ex-Marine and avid participant in VRC activities, was conditioned by his family from a young age to join the Marines. His “violent, not-so-good” home environment encouraged him to seek an escape.
As a member of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, referred to as MEUSOC, Laux was an infantryman in “floating tanks or troop transports, like amphibious assault vehicles.” The unit first participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and later Operation Iraqi Freedom beginning in October 2003.
After returning in 2006, Laux not only struggled with adjusting to the college environment, but also dispelling the violent mindset remaining from his time in the Marines.
However, Laux’s GPA and peaceful, positive outlook rose drastically when the Veterans Resource Center was started.
“I felt more comfortable at Clark with other veterans being there,” Laux said, on top of tutors, tech-savvy peers and the GI Bill benefits.
“In the military, there was always someone in charge of me,” Laux said. When he came back home, he said his wife “was really helpful [at] keeping me on track, but we got divorced. So next thing I know, I have no one in charge of me anymore, and have to deal with all my issues.”
The military culture Laux experienced encouraged him to conceal his emotions, so he resisted getting professional counseling help. He said has observed similar behavior in other veterans.
Ten years later, Laux still encounters problems with being open about his emotions, but the VRC continues to be a “huge help” in his life.
Similar to Laux’s experience, some veterans encounter difficulties in college life. Whether it be the open structure or interacting with younger generations, these difficulties can easily impact a veteran’s academic success.
To solve this problem, the Academic Early Warning system allows instructors to communicate with struggling veterans about their academic needs. During Clark’s Teaching and Learning Days, the VRC encourages faculty to take Vet 101 and 201, which educates instructors on military culture as well as PTSD and traumatic injuries.
A misconception some have is that many, if not all, veterans suffer from some form of PTSD. This is not true.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that “PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War [Desert Storm] veterans, and 11 percent of veterans from the war in Afghanistan.”
In September, which is Suicide Awareness Month, the VRC advocated for the 22-A-Day campaign that highlights the recent epidemic in veteran suicides.
Every quarter, the VRC hosts events dedicated to serving student, faculty and staff veterans. This includes cleaning up veteran graves in local cemeteries and organizing Vet Success Workshops that teach veterans how to transfer their military skill sets to the open academic environment of college.
“We have great access to the community and a unique position, so it’s wonderful and exciting,” Jones said.
The overall mission of the VRC, Jones said, is to “let [veterans] know we care.”