MARINETTE — Veterans Day is not only a day to celebrate, but to honor and remember those who have sacrificed their lives or who may still be fighting a battle.
UW-Marinette, along with the UW System, strives to help veterans and their families. Starlifter, the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America, performed at UW-Marinette’s campus Monday for veterans and residents in the community to enjoy. Today, a free lunch will be given to those who served.
“It is the mission of the UW Colleges Veterans Services Office to serve all military-affiliated students on the 14 UW Colleges campuses,” said Pam Olson, information specialist with UW-Marinette. “Military-affiliated students include prior service veterans, current members of the National Guard or Reserves, active duty personnel, and dependents and/or spouses of veterans.”
In fact, Rick Hile, an Army infantry veteran who served eight years, said he wouldn’t be on campus without Olson.
“Pam is great,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. Dealing with the VA is just a giant headache, so having Pam take care of our paperwork is a really big help. Getting a buffer system to help relieve the stress of dealing the VA is awesome, it’s great they do this for us.”
Allen Learst (Ph.D. and professor of English), who is a Vietnam Army infantry veteran, said he is confused as to why there aren’t more veterans that attend UW-Marinette.
“I know they’re around, but why aren’t they here?,” he asked. “I think on average, I’m guessing a little big, but I may have one or two veterans a semester. Considering how many people are out of the service now, or will soon be getting out, it makes me wonder why they’re not coming here.”
According to Learst, those coming home from being in the military have a very high chance of having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; a condition that can bring back the memories of a trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions).
“If veterans come back to school, it is one way to relieve PTSD because you have a community and people that understands,” he explained. “School really helps to get them grounded. There’s so many people that need help. There’s some stigma attached to it; some people in the military are a little wary about it. I think coming to a college campus is a way to basically have a goal; I think for those people, a goal is really important.”
To help combat PTSD, Olson said UW-Marinette designated a room specifically for veterans to use and a counselor, who happens to be a veteran as well, is on site every Wednesday.
“The class sizes here are smaller, I think that helps,” Olson said. “A lot of professors understand that if they’re going through this problem, it’s not an issue for the person to sit by the door or back of the class. They just need to talk to the professor.”
Byron Kowalski, a Navy veteran of six years who was stationed on a nuclear submarine, said he really appreciates the small class sizes.
“I really like the smaller class sizes because if you need help the professors are here,” he explained. “A lot of us have been out of school for a long time. If you don’t remember something that you’re supposed to know, you can go in and ask for help, especially since the class sizes are small.”
Learst said military veterans serve as role models for regular students on campus.
“A lot of the time when you come out of the service, you are trained to behave a certain way,” he said. “You sort of have to push your moral code that you grew up with aside in order to be a soldier. That is conflicting sometimes because when you come home then you’re supposed to be normal again and it’s not that easy.
“There’s a lot of anger, aggression, alcohol/drug abuse and suicide. I think for our students here, these guys are leaders. Those students are paying attention and it gives them the opportunity to see what service might do for you in a positive and negative way. It’s all about making choices.”
Hile said that once a person leaves the military, it’s difficult for a person to adapt because they don’t have a constant support system.
“In the military you have your group,” he said. “You are part of a group — you support and take care of each other. You go to combat and die with each other if you have to, that’s what it’s all about. The military is taking care of the person to the left and the right. When you get out, that whole support system is gone.
Basically if I didn’t come to school, I’d sit around in my room all day playing video games and have a menial job where I go and punch a clock so I can buy things. It helps when you go to school and you can meet other veterans and even non-veterans that become your new support group. It helps you deal with things.”
Hile urges students to talk to the veterans. “I’ll talk to anyone at any time,” he said.
Learst said he thinks a lot of people have conjured up stereotypes of military people — some being scary, while others aren’t.
“I think their presence on campus show just that — they are stereotypes,” he said. “We’re talking about real people who did things in the military that they’re proud of, maybe not so proud of. They’re real people experiencing life after the military. I think that breaks down those stereotypes. When I came back from Vietnam, it wasn’t a popular war, so we were called baby killers and all of that. It was not a good time to be a soldier in the military.”
While most veterans appreciate sentiments about those bidding their support and being proud of soldiers, they often don’t know how to respond.
“It’s a little bit empty,” Learst said. “It’s kind of an empty sentiment because they don’t really know what that means. They’re just saying it because they think that’s their idea of patriotism. For a lot of veterans, they appreciate it, but it doesn’t really mean that much. I don’t even know what real patriotism is. Patriotism, for me, comes in a lot of different ways. You can be patriotic if you’re helping your community. Just his well-wishing doesn’t hit the nail on the head.”
Instead of sentiments, Learst said it would be better if people knew more of what to acknowledge, like high suicide rate in veterans.
“I think society, even this community, in general is kind of in denial of what really happens,” he said.
Hile said most people get ideas of war and combat from movies, books and some reporting.
“it doesn’t go into details,” he said. “Twenty-two veterans commit suicide a day. One of the main things that you want as a leader is for your team to come back safely — even if that means you don’t.”
Many people don’t understand the nature of the military, unless they experience it, Learst explained.
“I’m not sure the public understands the nature of the true sacrifice,” he said. “You give yourself up — your identity is put tot he side in favor of this job that you’re doing and that’s tough to deal with.”
“People don’t realize what the military lifestyle is about,” Hile said.