From the battlefield to the classroom
Soldiers talk about transition
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 00:09
The end of summer marks the beginning of another school year, and days are becoming more routine for upperclassmen and first-year students. As students settle into the fall semester, everyone is adjusting to life away from home, many for the first time.
Making the transition from home life to college life can be challenging for many students, but for some soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the adjustment is even more dramatic.
For junior Michael Kennedy, there was a huge culture shock when he returned from Iraq in March 2010 and enrolled in classes at USM the following fall semester.
“I went from the military lifestyle all of the sudden to college,” Kennedy said. He joined the Army National Guard in February 2008, and quickly out of training, he discovered his unit was deploying to Iraq. He served as a combat medic during his time overseas.
When reflecting on his first semester at USM post-deployment, Kennedy said, “The adjustment is the same for every soldier, sailor or airman that deploys. It’s a really quick mind-set change that you have to have.”
Kennedy believes his transition to college life went well, however. He is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which helped him feel at home at Southern Miss after deployment. He is using the GI Bill provided by the military to fund his college expenses. Kennedy is contracted at the ROTC program at USM and hopes to use his degree in criminal justice to eventually work with military intelligence.
Another soldier found the transition to college life challenging, but for slightly different reasons. Junior Corey Buffalo, 29, is an Army National Guard member who was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and again in 2009. He served as a combat engineer in Iraq, where his job duties included placing and detonating explosives and operating fighting vehicles. Upon returning to the United States, he decided to pursue a degree in interdisciplinary studies in the fall of 2011.
“It was almost harder to go back to school than it was to go to Iraq,” Buffalo said. “School was an unknown variable for me. It was an overwhelming adjustment due to my age.” Last summer and spring semester, 758 veterans took advantage of the GI Bill, which provides educational benefits for members of the armed forces. That is nearly five percent of the Southern Miss student body, according to the Office of Institutional Research website.
College is not the same experience for everyone. While many students have similar passions and hobbies, all come from different places and backgrounds. This diversity is the defining characteristic that makes Southern Miss feel like home.