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Adjusting as Veteran Learners

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By, Jeremy Carlton (FHSU Coordinator of Military Student Success, U.S. Air Force Veteran , 2003-2011)

“I need we in order to be.” Leonard Sweet, Historian and Semiotician
    I recall those initial hesitations that took shape as I had come to embrace higher education myself. Transitioning between having served on active duty, an environment where everything is predetermined and regulated for you to a learning community where questioning is encouraged and dissent matters, was a very difficult adjustment to make sense of; yet let alone live into. As I recall, transitioning between certain uniformity/compliance to encouraged “individualism” was immediately overwhelming. I was not prepared for the sea of individuals, having come from an environment that the Army recruiters have aptly described as “an Army of one”. What I wasn’t prepared for was collaborative learning. I loathed sharing in meaning. Again, I was accustomed to predetermined meaning—someone via a Reg telling me what to do. I liked being told what to do. I still do to a certain degree. There is comfort in it. When professors used terms like “learning laboratories” I would cringe and immediately verify the class-drop date to see if there was still time to jump ship. Most of the time, however, I knew early on if it was going to be a collaborative learning environment or not. If it wasn’t for my want to overcome I would have dropped many classes along the way. I am glad that I didn’t. I needed a variety of voices in my life. I still do. I needed diversity. I needed to learn and know that we all bring our own histories to the table and that our shared learning experience is life affirming. Yes, I still prefer a top down approach, but I have grown to cherish the egalitarian nature of the academe. “Out of many, one,” means that I make room for understanding life from a variety of angles as I become a whole person.
    Years have passed and now I am an administrator helping veterans field their transitions into higher education. I have seen the frustration first hand and have fielded countless conversations with veterans who were barely hanging on. My heart breaks for them. I suppose that that is why I feel inclined to write this piece. I want veterans to know that there are others like them sitting in the classroom—the library—the quad—the union—online. That there are advocates on-line and around campus who care and understand those unique histories that shape veterans. Our veteran students unbeknownst to others bare within them images, smells, and sounds that are directly tied to conflict—to war—to hell. We know the cost. We’ve seen and felt the pain. We have experienced unimaginable loss. We have felt the anxiety that comes with being “real world ready”. Serving is not easy. I don’t think that too many would argue that. Point is, you are not alone. Just about every campus sports a sizable veteran population. Do yourself a favor and find them (See: Student Veterans of America Commune with them. Swap stories. Chide alongside them. Trust me, it will make your experience more than manageable as you adjust to the academe.
    Here at Fort Hays State we have enacted several initiatives to better support our veteran students; and more are coming. From the recent “Green Zone” initiative where safe-spaces have been intentionally created for our veteran populations (both on-campus and on-line); to the creation of my office (Office of Military Student Success) year ago; to our FHSU-VC Military POI (See:; Fort Hays is striving to create space for you to succeed. You also may not know this, but we also have an unofficial FHSU Military Lounge on-line chalk full of tutorials, tips, helpful links, and a scholarship listing (See: Feel free to explore the Lounge at length and contribute should you so choose. Proudly, we have professional counseling and referral services (among other things) available to our on-campus and on-line students as well through the Kelly Center (See: Use these services as needed. Updated often, we have a rather sizable Social Media presence as well—one that was specifically created for our FHSU veterans (Look for us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram). Lastly,  I cherish serving veteran populations because I know that veterans bring a lot to classroom. I know that classrooms need more voices of (experienced) veterans in them. You have a lot to give and your fellow classmates need to hear what you have to say as you contribute to this privileged and shared conversation. Your classmates have a lot to teach you as well. Be open. Be patient. Be understanding. Again, we are all bringing a host of diverse histories to the table and that strength can be found in shared meaning.
Please feel free to contact Jeremy at with your questions and thoughts.

Sweet, Leonard. Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1999.

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