Veterans discuss attending school after serving

Every student at UNA comes with a different background and enters with a unique set of life circumstances which shapes their time on campus. Even with their differences, many of the students can be categorized as freshmen, transfer or veteran students.

Veteran students have life circumstances that vary greatly from the average freshmen or transfer students.

Many of the veteran students are married or in other significant relationships, many have children, and all are older than traditional students, said retired Lt. Col. Wayne Bergeron, former ROTC Commander and current criminal justice and emergency management professor.

Bergeron said those who are honorably discharged from the Army have a four-year degree paid for, and most have health care and a living stipend as well. Veterans can choose to go anywhere in the U.S. for their degree. Most of the veteran students at UNA have ties to North Alabama.

Veteran Luis Miranda, a Business Management major, was a paramedic in the Army from 2001-2003. He was stationed stateside in Ft. Louis, Washington.

“For anything I have going on at college, the VA has covered tuition and fees for the entire time I’ve been in school, and I’m grateful,” Miranda said. “The VA has done nothing but take care of me from day one. “

Air Force veteran Toby Clark said Veterans Affairs have been equally good to him.

“They kept bugging me, telling me with the Post-9/11 GI Bill they could send me to school,” he said. “I’m getting paid to go to school and even get some money for cost of living. I wouldn’t have come back to school without that.”

Clark served as a helicopter door runner beginning in 1987, working on special projects in Panama, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Sarajevo and several areas in Central and South America.

“I’ve been out for 15 years and I’m used to life, but it’s really different,” he said. “It’s difficult to describe emotionally when you come back to school and some people say they support the military and yet disagree with it. I just want to be respected.”

Bergeron said he advises students to seriously think before they speak to a veteran.

“Resist the urge to thank them for their service,” he said. “Not because it’s not important to do that. Most folks that served [did so] because they wanted to. And to be quite honest, they are a bit uncomfortable when someone thanks them for their service, particularly younger veterans.”

Bergeron said it took him a long time to figure out how to respond when people thank him for his service.

He now replies with, “It’s been my pleasure, because it really has.”

He also said military and veteran students may not be comfortable talking about their service with nonveterans because civilians cannot understand.

“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but they definitely don’t want to talk about it in the classroom,” he said.

All in all, most veterans are proud of their service, and that was a big part of their life. Now that they are at UNA, they say they are here to focus on a new chapter in their lives.