University of Alaska Southeast held a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11, 2019, including a panel of student veterans talking about their experience transitioning out of the service. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

University of Alaska Southeast held a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11, 2019, including a panel of student veterans talking about their experience transitioning out of the service. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Off the edge of the map: Student veterans talk about returning to civilian life

Everyone’s transition is different, and they’re rarely painless

Veterans Day marks a day of remembrance for America’s veterans across that year, and the veterans of the War on Terror are some of the most visible members of that group, especially in colleges.

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield spoke at a Veterans Day celebration held by UAS on Monday, where some of those student veterans took part in a panel answering questions about reentry to civilian life.

“I’m really pleased we’re going to hear from our students that have served in the past,” Caulfield said. “We’re here to serve you because you’ve served all of us as Americans.”

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield spoke at a Veterans Day celebration held by UAS on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield spoke at a Veterans Day celebration held by UAS on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

With educational benefits available to service members exiting the military, many of those veterans return to college, studying something they’re interested in or maybe just learning about who they want to be. More than 80 people are using veteran benefits at UAS, said Deborah Rydman, Department of Veterans Affairs certifying official.

“The best part was the newfound freedom. It’s also the worst part,” said Tori Best, an elementary education major and former Marine combat engineer. “You realize you have to get back to life right away. You go through your transitions and realize life isn’t always a straight road.”

While the military doesn’t dictate every aspect of one’s life, it does offer clear ways to succeed while one is in it. Work hard. Know your job. Be clean. Exercise military discipline. Be where you’re supposed to be, wearing what you’re supposed to be wearing. But it’s trickier to nail down what constitutes success and how to achieve it in the civilian world.

“You’ve been with the same mindset of people, or similar ones,” said Donovan Jackson, heavy duty diesel mechanic major, and a former Army tank driver. “It was a reverse culture shock.”

Other issues came with returning to college — or going for the first time.

David Carroll, fisheries and ocean science major and former Marine UH-1N crew chief, answers a question during a panel of student veterans as part of a Veterans Day celebration at University of Alaska Southeast on Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

David Carroll, fisheries and ocean science major and former Marine UH-1N crew chief, answers a question during a panel of student veterans as part of a Veterans Day celebration at University of Alaska Southeast on Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“I was at a larger university where I was just a number. And it was a rough transition,” said David Carroll, fisheries and ocean science major and former Marine UH-1N crew chief. “I didn’t want to be labeled that way (student veteran). I wanted to be David, I didn’t want to be Cpl. Carroll or a veteran, I just wanted to be me.”

Carroll said he found this balance much easier to strike at UAS, where he was more free to be who he wanted to be, to live and let live. Other student veterans had similar things to say about the classes or students they found themselves with, finding the differences between their old and new lives.

“You don’t show emotion as much. Especially in our branch, you just get used to it,” Best said. “If I saw someone fall asleep in class, it actually bothered me. I thought I’d fall back in with my friends, but it didn’t work out like that. ”

Tori Best, an elementary education major and former Marine combat engineer, answers a question during a panel of student veterans as part of a Veterans Day celebration at University of Alaska Southeast on Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Tori Best, an elementary education major and former Marine combat engineer, answers a question during a panel of student veterans as part of a Veterans Day celebration at University of Alaska Southeast on Nov. 11, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

For others, it wasn’t the other students or life that was an issue, but the things they carried with them after leaving the service.

“I started going to class before getting help for my PTSD and I couldn’t really do it,” Jackson said. “Be OK with asking for help.”

The student veterans also urged other student veterans to use their benefits for all they’re worth, but not to waste them.

“I’ve been told time and time again, use your benefits but do not waste them. Know what path you’re going on,” Best said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Reporter Michael S. Lockett previously served in the United States Marine Corps.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau's incumbent delegation to the Alaska State Legislature from left to right: Representative Andi Story, D-Juneau; State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. All three lawmakers have filed for re-election and are so far running unopposed. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire, Courtesy photo / Jesse Kiehl, Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Local lawmakers all seek reelection

June 1, filing deadline.

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read