More Troops Going From Combat to Class

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First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden speak about their Joining Forces initiative following the kick off performance of the fifth installment of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial in Columbus, Ohio April 14, 2011.(Photo: USO (flickr))
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden speak about their Joining Forces initiative following the kick off performance of the fifth installment of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial in Columbus, Ohio April 14, 2011.(Photo: USO (flickr))

First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in Columbus later today to tout job services for military veterans and their families. Mrs. Obama’s stop is part of a “Joining Initiatives” tour. The tour is an effort to help veterans and their families make a transition from deployments to civilian life. For many veterans that transition includes going to back to class to boost their job chances.

At Columbus State Commmunity College, 700 veterans are taking classes – trying to move from the military to the civilian workforce. The schools dean of enrollment Martin Maliwesky expects the number to climb.

And some of those returning veterans struggle with a new reality when they leave the service.

“Its also a challenge for many of the veterans to come back from a position where they’ve been empowered to lead individuals and have control of major equipment and process and come back to the civilian world where that doesn’t translate directly sometimes into a job,” Maliwesky says.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports a 40 percent increase in vets taking college courses. Last year, 800,000 used GI Bill education benefits.

Former Marine Brad Yeazel, 27, is studying to be a nurse at Columbus State.

“A lot of people are shocked that they find out that we are military because we try to fit in, like, I try to fit in as much as possible I don’t try to look like I looked when I was in the military,” Yeazel said.

Yeazel served two tours of duty in Iraq. At times doing foot patrols and helping secure supply convoys in and around Fallujah. Even though he tries to fit in the college classroom environment, Yeazel says there’s a big separation between civilian and military life. He says he can often spot veterans on campus just by the way they carry themselves.

“For four years you live and breathe the military. You get interaction with the outside world but I mean, you’re mainly just around military so when you come back to be a civilian again its kind of hard to transition to act like everybody else does, to be like everybody else does,” Yeazel said.

Like Yeazel, Navy veteran and Columbus state student, Matthew Rader is in his late 20s also working toward a degree in Nursing. Rader was deployed to an aircraft carrier which saw duty off the coasts of Iran and Afghanistan.

“So alot of the times we were forward deployed to show force. Any international situation that came up. So alot of times we were in some of the hairier situations,” Rader said.

He says with more veterans on campus, its sometimes easier to cope.

“And alot of the times you kind of gravitate towards that other person and pretty soon you’re swapping stories and you’re talking about what you did and where you served and that kind of makes life easier to kind of have somebody else to talk to,” Rader said.

Columbus State has programs to link vets to financial aid and counseling. But, Dean Maliwesky wants to do more.

“And what we’re looking to try to develop is a true Veterans Center where Veterans would not have to understand how we’re built and administered to know where to ask questions or receive support,” Maliwesky says.

Maliwesky adds that the school is also exploring a program to allow credit for life experiences. He says that would allow veterans to graduate sooner and enter the job market.

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