While many 19-year-olds were busy worrying about a pop quiz, John Fannin was patrolling in Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq as a marine. Jordan Guerrero was also in Iraq working at the utility shop for his marine unit. Carmen Phillips was there too, helping doctors as a combat medic in the Army. In Kuwait, navy corpsman Dustin Hannon was working to save and heal the injured. They are all TLU students. They are all veterans.
While they may not be your traditional college students, all of them understand the value of an education. Despite difficulties in not only transitioning back to civilian life but life as university students, all four of them use the skills they acquired during their service to adjust. Using their own experiences, they share with and educate others on what it’s like being a student and a veteran.
“There are lots of veterans who haven’t touched a book or been inside a classroom since they graduated from high school,” Phillips, 31, senior chemistry major, said. “The way they were taught is probably different from the way subjects are taught now.”
Phillips, president of the chemistry club Pi Rho and a choir member, says it’s important for veterans who go back to school to not seclude themselves.
“While it might be difficult relating to younger students, it’s important to be part of campus life,” Phillips said. “No one makes me feel like an outsider at TLU. I love it here. I feel really comfortable and the interaction I have with other veterans is great because they understand military life. It’s nice to have that support.”
John Fannin and Dustin Hannon found that being involved has helped them make friends and become part of the campus community. Fannin, 26, is a defensive end for the junior varsity football team and Hannon, 25, is a receiver for the varsity football team. Both automatically connected when they met each other.
“Even though I was apprehensive about coming back to school, TLU has become a sanctuary for me,” Fannin, sophomore kinesiology major, said. “When I returned from Iraq, I unfortunately had some fallouts with friends in my hometown and I needed a place where I could focus on me. TLU is that place.”
Hannon says he and Fannin both had to learn how to handle the mentality of college kids and they have both taken on roles as big brothers to their teammates.
“They teach us and we teach them,” Hannon, sophomore kinesiology major, said. “I always knew I wanted to get my degree and I’m so glad I did. I’ve become more outgoing and TLU is like my home.”
Jordan Guerrero, 23, decided to earn his degree not just for himself, but for his family and three-year-old son. The sophomore exercise science major said while his transition from marine to college student was very fast, his decision to come back to school is one of the best he’s ever made.
“I was nervous at first,” Guerrero said. “After visiting other campuses and seeing the one-on-one attention I could have here, I knew TLU was for me. That gives me a chance to excel. I feel like I fit in here and I’m able to talk with other veterans about our service and civilian life.”
Marie Paiz, assistant registrar and veteran affairs certification officer, says although student-veterans are different than your typical college kid, the experiences they had have shaped them into natural leaders.
“They’re leaders in the classroom and we must remember they were trained to not hesitate when given a task,” Paiz said. “They usually go above and beyond with academics and most of them feel they are responsible for others in group projects. They not only set examples for other students, but other veterans who might be thinking about returning to school.”
Most importantly, Paiz says that we must welcome our veterans into college.
“It’s vital that we have their back,” Paiz said. “For some veterans, if they don’t have an education, they fall into that rut where they might miss out on becoming a viable part of the workforce. We must welcome them back with respect and encouragement. That begins in the schools.”
At TLU the commitment to veterans is a priority for not only Paiz, but for the campus as a community.
“We want them to be successful and let them know we supported them before and we’ll continue to support them now,” Paiz said. “They deserve to know we care about them after all they’ve done for us.”
And all four of them would do more. Phillips, Hannon, Fannin and Guerrero said they would reenlist, sharing what they’ve learned from obtaining a college education.
“I want to give back even more because I received an education for my service,” Phillips said. “As veterans, we can use our degrees to continue helping fellow soldiers and citizens.”
Read more about our veteran students and what it's like to finally live the dream of playing college football.