Monday, June 30, 2014

The Talents of Student Veterans

I had the pleasure of sitting down with a group of Vol State student veterans last week. The experience reminded me of the incredible talents that student veterans bring to the college...talents that may go unnoticed, unless you take the time to engage in a conversation about their service. I chatted with a nuclear power specialist from an attack sub, a helicopter mechanic and a recruiter. They have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and many points across the globe. It gives them a global perspective that most of us don't have, and that's a real asset to the college. Their reasons for coming to Vol State, and what they hope to do with their degrees, are also interesting.  We'll be telling their stories over the coming months. Today, we share with you the story of Laura Freeman.

After tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne, you would figure that Laura Freeman of Nashville would be ready for anything. But arriving at college provided some anxiety for the Army mechanic.

“I was worried. I thought that everyone would be so much younger than me,” she said. “It was not as bad as I thought. Ken was a huge help. He made things a lot easier. Having been in the military himself, he had a good understanding.”

Ken Hanson is the Veteran Affairs coordinator at Vol State. He works with student veterans to help them through the VA benefits process and their college career.

Laura fractured her hip in Iraq. No matter how she tried, the ailment only got worse. She eventually had a medical retirement. Vol State offers a range of academic options for students, but many veterans know exactly what they want to do.

“I’m going to try to transfer to Cornell or Tufts,” Freeman said. “I’m going to eventually become a veterinarian.”

Those are two of the top veterinary programs in the nation. Laura knows from her Army career that learning is something she can do well.

“I was in the first graduating class of the Eagle Language Training Center. I speak Pashtun. It’s one of the dominant languages used in Eastern Afghanistan.”

Laura is taking biology, chemistry and many of the other pre-medical foundation courses that also apply to pre-veterinary students. She stresses that while college is different, there are some things similar to the military.

“It was comforting, actually, being back in the swing of things with a set schedule. It reminds me of being in the Army.”

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