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Veterans in the classroom

 Imagine living with no running water.  How about sleeping in a tent?  Or having no showers – only baby wipes to use to clean yourself?  Soldiers face hardships while deployed that create many problems adjusting to normal life when they return home; some adjustments are easy to appreciate, such as unregulated time in a hot shower, or not having to use bottled water as the only source of water.�
 Other adjustments are not so easy, especially for returning soldiers who step into the classroom.  According to Mark Pack, Criminal Justice Technology Instructor at Valdosta Technical College, veteran and former student, two of the hardest differences to adjust to in the academic world are changing how you respond to people and having professors who lack real-world experience.
 In the military, especially during deployments, you do not ask people to complete a task – you tell them what to do and they do it.  “When you’re in a war situation, it’s not like you say, ‘Oh, can you go ahead and put ammo in the truck?’ No, you say ,‘Go ahead and put ammo in the truck now,’” said Pack.
 Especially in a criminal justice program, having an instructor who hasn’t been deployed makes it harder to learn techniques and reasonable situations in classes such as Use of Deadly Force.  Learning from a book is necessary, but receiving instruction from someone using only a book increases student frustration.
 “Say they’re teaching a criminal justice class, and they’re trying to tell you how it is out there in the real world, when all they’ve been is in the classroom or done their college.  They’ve never put on a pistol belt, they’ve never tied their boots or anything… How can you tell people how it is?” said Pack.
 Another common difficulty for veterans returning to classrooms is the lack of someone to talk to about their problems adjusting.  The military branches have counseling programs designed to dress this issue, but often months pass between appointments.  Too much time between visits makes it difficult for a bond to form or much progress to be made.  This fact is unfortunate for any veteran student in need of counseling, but particularly so for those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.�
 Pack learned a technique that helped with this issue while working prison detail.  He left “home at home and work at work” and applied this practice to Iraq.  “When I came back home, [it was] not that I didn’t have a lot of stuff going on, but I could put Iraq aside and concentrate on working and then I got into school full-time,” he said.
 One resource for veterans encountering adjustment barriers is the Veteran’s Administration.  According to the VA website, they offer “academic and adjustment counseling to resolve barriers that impede success in training or employment.”  These types of programs are essential for veterans to succeed in the academic and civilian worlds.  Without someone to talk to about concerns and problems, adjusting can be almost impossible.
As for civilian students, skills such as note-taking and time management may not come naturally to veteran students.  The lack of these skills is particularly difficult for soldiers transitioning from a very structured, mandated life style to a self-directed academic world.  While there is not an office on Valdosta State University’s campus that focuses on helping veterans with non-financial issues, the Student Success Center does offer counseling and workshops for problems such as these.
Soldiers give up so many things to protect our country and its freedoms and that dedication demands high costs and changes from all of them.  For those who step into the classroom, another set of adjustments and changes is added to the pile.  We need to help them in every way we can.

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