PLNU veterans and the challenges of life once the mission is over

In Features, Latest News by Ombretta Di Dio

Look around on campus, and you may find that almost one in 10 students at PLNU is either a veteran or married to one. With Veterans Day around the corner on Friday, Nov. 11, The Point decided to talk to some of the numerous veterans on campus. The university has a total of 2,600 undergraduate students for the fall 2016 semester, according to Student Financial Services. Deborah Tillson, campus Veterans Affairs certifying official, explained that veterans make up for 8.4 percent of the undergraduate student body. That includes active duty military members, military spouses and Reserve Officer Training Corps.

The school has a Student Veterans Club that regularly meets to bring ex-service members and their families together. David A. Ah Sing, a former non-commissioned officer in the Air Force for 21 years and now advisor for the club, said the mission of the club is to enhance the visibility of veterans in the student population. “Without the Veterans Club, the [veterans] community would be poorly represented to the student body,” he said.

Samantha R. Elliott, PLNU senior Christian ministries major and president of the club, said “the club is there for vets to get together, so that veterans don’t feel alone here in the midst of young people.”

“Unfortunately, not many people come to the club because vets are generally older. They have work, school. We are all so far away from each other,” she said.

Being a veteran and a student does not come without challenges, and, while service members generally embrace their new routines, they can feel isolated or nostalgic of their old lifestyles. Junior athletic training major Alex Tinajero spent eight years in the Army. The memories of his past still resonate in his present. “I used to jump out of planes and perform security tasks,” he said of his job in the military. “The sense of friendship in the Army is what I miss the most,” he continued. “There is a brotherhood that people out don’t understand. One of my soldiers got hit with a bomb that blew out his right calf once,” he said. “During that attack, people around him became very close and formed a brotherhood based on that experience.”

Tinajero loved the training the military gave him. “Training puts you in those kinds of scenarios for ‘real-life’ combats,” he said. Eventually, however, he grew tired of the long hours and the lack of rest, deciding to pursue a different career. “Still, the biggest challenge was letting go of the military mindset,” he said. “Things needed to be a certain way, and I was in charge of people,” he said. “Now I am only in charge of myself, and that’s scary,” he concluded.

The sense of friendship the military provided is something Elliott also misses. She was a seabee in the Navy for five years before she got married to a Marine and decided to become a student. “I was married, and I wanted to live with my husband. One of us had to get out,” she said. “Falling away from your really good friends in the military was maybe the hardest part. But trying to figure out veterans benefits and insurance was also complicated,” she continued.

Senior biology major Bryson Menke, an ex-Navy Chief and 12-year veteran, believes the school has a lack of understanding when it comes to veterans. “The reality is that many of us are on campus to accomplish the mission of further education, but we all come from a similar background of prior experience,” he said. “This is why we often band together on campus, not to shut each other out, but because we fully understand each other and the struggle each other is facing.”

While schools like San Diego State University will be closed for Veterans Day, PLNU will be open and will celebrate its veterans outside the Dining Hall of the main campus. The Student Veterans Club will have a stand there, ready to answer questions and hand out cards so that students may thank homeless veterans for their service. The Center for Student Success will say thanks by offering snacks between 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. on the Mission Valley campus.

Menke, however, does not entirely agree with the policy of keeping PLNU open for Veterans Day. “Veterans Day is a federal holiday for a reason,” he said. “It’s not just a day off so people can go to the beach or avoid work for the day. It’s a day for our country to honor those who are currently and have previously served,” he concluded.

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