Art by Madeline Duvall
With last week’s Pepperdine Graphic Media Town Hall, “Citizen Soldier,” on Thursday, March 8, it is only right that the Pepperdine Graphic staff focus on the important and often-overlooked presence and engagement of student veterans on campus. “Citizen Soldier” was an opportunity for dialogue regarding veterans’ affairs and for some of Pepperdine’s own veterans to share their stories of service and identity.
In American culture, the veteran is often placed into a specific role and prescribed a limited identity by which they are characterized by others: loyal patriots who fought for our freedom. And while that description is often true, people often forget the person behind the job and their unique identity when their role is all that is recognized.
To fully honor veterans and to make them feel wholly included at Pepperdine, it is vital that students take advantage of any opportunity to bridge the gap between veteran and non-veteran experiences and to create fellowship by sparking communication through interactions like those at the Town Hall.
Students might not realize that they have a veteran next to them in class working toward a degree. Pepperdine is home to roughly 377 veterans across all five schools, many of whom are enlisted personnel, according to gijobs.com.
As of 2016 only 13.3 percent of active duty personnel earned a bachelor’s degree and 8.3 percent achieved an advanced degree, according to research by the Department of Defense. Statistics show that 76.1 percent of active personnel at the time had only completed a GED.
Many soldiers find that joining the Armed Forces, and thus becoming eligible for veteran financial assistance, is the best way to obtain an education that may otherwise be financially unreachable. Additionally, as one must complete a college degree before being able to become an officer in the military, working toward a degree is also a viable way for enlisted personnel to move up the ranks in the Armed Forces. The differences between enlisted and commissioned ranks are significant and include large pay and status gaps. Enlisted personnel do not have the opportunities for success as officers, which is why many pursue a degree after their initial service.
After serving four years in the United Armed Forces, veterans are entitled to a higher education paid for by the G.I. Bill. Initially passed in 1944, the G.I. Bill was updated in 2008 to include Chapter 33, also known as The Yellow Ribbon Program aspect of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and now provides “enhanced educational benefits that cover more educational expenses,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Despite the increased opportunities that the G.I. Bill provides, not all universities accept the G.I. Bill.
Pepperdine is nationally recognized as a “military-friendly” school, not only for extensive veteran-focused career and counseling support, but due to the University’s adoption of the Yellow Ribbon Program during President Andrew K. Benton’s tenure, according to gijobs.com and a 2012 article by the Pepperdine Graphic. The Yellow Ribbon program is a provision to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows universities to waive the majority of or all of a veteran’s tuition bills, so that they may pursue a degree regardless of financial limitations.
In addition to financial support, student veterans can also find a strong community on campus through the Student Veterans Organization (SVO) and the Pepperdine Committee on Student Veterans (PCSV). SVO is a student-led group that supports veterans and aids in the transition from service to civilian student life, according to Pepperdine’s official university website. The organization not only helps veterans understand their opportunities through Pepperdine-provided services and resources but also celebrates veteran achievements and fosters community and understanding between veteran and non-veteran students.
SVO worked in partnership with SGA to bring war hero and author of “Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell to Pepperdine in 2015 to speak as part of his national “Patriot Tour,” and strived to arrange veterans-focused events such as convocation in the past. PCSV, which was created in 2013, coordinates services for veterans and serves as a central point of contact for Pepperdine veterans and those looking to interact with them.
PCSV consists of 20 students, staff and faculty members from all five schools, including both veterans and non-veterans. Non-veteran students have the opportunity and are encouraged to reach out to either of these organizations to learn more about veterans on campus and how to support and communicate with them.
Though veterans have lived through different circumstances than the average student, and they deserve to be honored for their service and sacrifices, it is important to remember that they are still just Waves. They have chosen to be a part of the Pepperdine community just as every other student has. The best way to understand the experiences of a veteran is to talk to them. Reach out and make a connection.
Remember, the veteran speaking is more than a soldier; they have their own story that they might be willing to share. Don’t assume who they are and what they have been through before they explain — what they share may be surprising.
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