Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Through Army-Colored Glasses: A Layered Account of One Veteran's Experiences in Higher Education

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Through Army-Colored Glasses: A Layered Account of One Veteran's Experiences in Higher Education

Article excerpt

There is an unfortunate gap in the literature on veterans' issues in higher education with little exploration from an insider perspective. To best honor the voice of the student veteran community, I wrote this autoethnography utilizing my own insider experiences in both cultures. Breaking through the barriers of a relatively-insular community, this study provides insight into the conflicted feelings of veterans in higher education and how military ways of thinking perpetuate throughout a veteran's life experiences. Institutions of higher education may then use these experiences to better understand the tension experienced by student veterans and veteran employees as they balance two disparate ways of thinking--the military and higher education.

Opening Vignette

If higher education was the gateway to a career, then the military was my ticket in. At 16 years old, I had no concept of what I was going to do after high school, but once I turned 17, I just knew that I should join the military. I never planned to make a career out of it, but I had always looked up to my father. He had enlisted during the Vietnam Conflict, serving with the U.S. Army's 5th Special Forces Group. That was only a brief interlude in his life though, as he left Purdue University to join and then he returned there to his industrial engineering program once he finished his two years of service. The marketing I had seen convinced me that higher education was essential to any future career plans that I had, and the admiration for my father told me that the military was an honorable path. It did not take the recruiter much work to convince me that a four-year enlistment was a good idea with the updated version of the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944, known simply as the GI Bill, as my primary incentive. I wanted to serve my country, but the wave of patriotism following the attacks of September 11, 2001 would not come for another year. "This," I convinced myself, "is the best of both worlds." I would serve my country for a few years, get an honorable discharge, and then ride my free ticket to higher education through the GI Bill.

As the bus from the airport check-in finally arrived at its destination, there was a pit in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect. My world exploded as Drill Sergeants, wearing their odd "round brown" hats, invaded the security of our bus, yelling confusing directions. One thing was clear though--we were to get off the bus with extreme haste. As I took my place in our misaligned formation, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. "I know you all think you're here for the GI Bill..." were some of the first words I remember there, and they brought an odd sense of comfort from association with his statement. What followed really took me aback. "...but that's not what you're here for. You're property of the U.S. government now. You're going to learn to kill for your country, to die for it if you have to." My mind began to wander as I pondered why I really was there. At roughly the same time as my mind tuned back in to what he was saying, the Drill Sergeant made a statement that troubled me for a long time, simply expressing that, "And if you really are just here for the GI Bill, you disgust me." If I was here to serve my country too, what was so bad about coming for the GI Bill? My opportunity to reflect was cut short by another shark attack, with screaming and running from place to place. The sentiment expressed that day was one that came up over and over throughout my training. It was somehow wrong to want to get something out of military service; it was juxtaposed against the Army value of "Selfless Service." Throughout all my training, I just felt dirty, a little embarrassed that I was one of those people who had signed up to earn the benefits of the GI Bill.

Context of the Study

As I approached the junior year of high school at my private school, I had thought about going into a private college for my undergraduate education; however, my decision to join the U. …

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