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Students, Citizens, Soldiers

 

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Left to Right - David Buller, Aaron Rockford, Bubba Page, Mariana Calderon

 

Colleges often provide many opportunities for students to get involved outside of class, usually through service to their community. For some students, however, service has another meaning.

 

Wayne State enrolls 72 military students using some type of the G.I. Bill at the undergraduate and graduate level. The college also was named on the 2013 Military Friendly Schools List. The list includes the top 15 percent of colleges and universities that make an extra effort to embrace America’s military service members as students. There are 1,739 schools on the Military Friendly Schools list this year

 

“Inclusion on the 2013 list of Military Friendly Schools shows Wayne State College’s commitment to providing a supportive environment for military students,” Director for G.I. Jobs Sean Collins said.

 

Being a successful student and soldier takes the determination and motivation of a special person, along with the guided support of WSC.

 

Bubba Page Takes Pride in Life as a Soldier

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Bubba Page - Operating the gun in an Up-Armored Humvee

 

Bubba Page is a 22-year-old senior from Holbrook, Ariz., majoring in journalism at WSC. Bubba was inspired to join the military after a particularly moving Veterans Day program at his high school. He signed up for the Army National Guard the next day.

 

“I just felt like it was my purpose in life,” Bubba said. “It was a gut feeling. I turned down three different football scholarships when I joined. I decided to go to college after I got back from my advanced individual training (AIT).”

 

Bubba completed his basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as an 88 Mike motor transport operator. He is currently a soldier in the 1075th Transportation Company in Columbus, Neb.

 

Bubba said he stays active on campus in his major by writing for The Wayne Stater.

 

“Bubba is a descriptive writer and is responsible about due dates,” Associate Professor and KWSC-TV Adviser Maureen Carrigg said. “Bubba brings his life experiences into his writing and reporting. He is a good soldier because he is not afraid to talk about the Army in a respectful way when we talk about how war is depicted in current news and entertainment media.

 

“Bubba is also a great example of not accepting defeat. I know it was difficult for him to come back to school and balance his guard and job responsibilities, but he is close to getting his diploma. He has never quit on that dream.”

 

Bubba said he hopes to have a military career after graduation.

 

“I’m going to be in the Guard for as long as I can, 20 to 30 years,” he said. “I hopefully can do active military.”

 

 

Mariana Calderon Adds Adventure to Life by Joining National Guard

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Mariana Calderon - With fellow soldier on levy duty in South Sioux City during the 2011 flood.

 

Mariana Calderon is a 22-year-old senior from Wakefield, Neb., majoring in human resource management. She is also a member of the Army National Guard.

 

“I wanted to do something exciting with my life,” Mariana said. “I wanted to get out and explore the world. Plus, it’s serving your country.”

 

Mariana completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and AIT as a 92 Alpha automated logistics specialist at Fort Lee, Va. She is currently a member of the 189th Transportation Company in Norfolk, Neb.

 

Mariana didn’t plan to attend college right away. However, changing military plans convinced her otherwise.

 

“I had the mindset that I would deploy when I signed up, but we didn’t,” Mariana said. “So I thought I might as well get my four-year degree and let the military help with my tuition.”

 

Mariana plans to get a full-time job in the Guard after graduation, but continues to stay involved on campus as vice president of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

 

“Mariana is an excellent student. She distinguishes herself through her active participation and involvement in classroom and out-of-class activities, including SHRM,” Professor of Business Patricia Arneson said. “Mariana is conscientious, fun-loving, personable and engaging. She is well trained and serious about her military obligations.

 

“I had an opportunity last year to chat with her about her National Guard service related to the Missouri River flooding. Her common sense, good judgment and skilled training made me proud as well as confident of the servicemen and women in our country.”

 

 

David Buller Always Knew He Wanted to be a Soldier

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David Buller with two local boys while on personal security detail.

Boy on right was a victim of IED blast now missing fingers

 

David Buller is a 22-year-old sophomore from Atkinson, Neb., majoring in drafting design with a construction management minor. David joined the Army National Guard in October 2007.

 

“My mind was made up to be a soldier my whole life,” David said. “In 8th grade, we had people with BlackHawk helicopters come talk with us, and after that I knew even more that’s what I wanted to do.”

 

David left for basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., in June 2008 and completed AIT as a fire fighter in St. Angelo, Texas. However, David is currently in the process of reclassing to become a horizontal engineer in the 623rd Engineering Company in Hastings, Neb., and he also hopes to stay in the military full-time.

 

“I plan to finish school and keep my options open,” David said. “But I would really like to make a career out of the military.”

 

David started college in the spring after AIT and continues to be active at WSC by participating in intramurals, weight lifting and playing rugby.

 

“David is hard working and gets work done on time,” Assistant Professor Don Buryanek said. “He’s responsible, prompt and accurate in his work and presents himself well. We’d take 20 more of him.”

 

 

Aaron Rockford Sets Strong Goals for Military and College Life

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Aaron Rockford (back, second from right) poses with soldiers in his unit in Iraq.

 

Aaron Rockford is a 23-year-old senior from Chambers, Neb., majoring in exercise science and minoring in nutrition with a coaching endorsement. He is a mechanic in the Army National Guard in the 1167th Brigade Support Company in Fremont, Neb.

 

“I always wanted to be a soldier, ever since I was a little kid,” Aaron said. “The events at 9-11 actually cemented that decision.”

 

Aaron joined the military in June 2006 and left for basic training in May 2007 at Fort Jackson. He completed AIT in Aberdeen, Md.

 

“When I left for basic, college wasn’t in my head at all,” Aaron said. “I got back in October, and I still wasn’t sure what to do. My mom thought I should take advantage of the benefits and go to college.”

 

Aaron participates in the Rugby Club at WSC as well as weight lifting and keeping up with class work.

 

“Aaron is a very good student. He’s friendly, cheerful, respectful and humble,” Exercise Science Professor Dr. Barbara Engebretsen said. “When Aaron was in my Anatomy & Physiology class, he had yet to do basic training and deploy. But even at that time, I felt that he would be an excellent soldier; responsible, extremely disciplined, of high moral character.

 

“He exemplified service above self. He was humble, respectful and intent on serving. He is strong physically and mentally. Because of his character, intelligence and strength, I imagine he is an excellent soldier.”

 

Aaron plans to finish college and possibly attend a physical therapy school after graduation.

 

“I also may do a three-year term in active duty to see what it is like,” Aaron said.

 

 

Military Benefits Help Soldiers Attend College

Bubba, Mariana, David and Aaron have taken advantage of the financial assistance offered by the military for students to attend college.

 

“You basically get paid to go to school, which is nice,” Mariana said.

 

David said he and other military students don’t have the debt most college students do. Aaron also said he will graduate debt-free because of the Guard.

 

“There are a variety of G.I. Bill benefit programs for students attending college,” WSC Registrar and Veterans Administration (VA) Certifying Official Lynette Lentz said. “WSC currently has students attending under VA Chapters 30, 31, 33, 35, 1606 and 1607. Each chapter has varying eligibility requirements and benefits available.

 

“Some students receive monthly benefits based on their full-time or part-time enrollment status. Some receive a housing allowance, book stipend and all or a percentage of their tuition and fees. Some even receive an added ‘kicker’ benefit based on their training in a specialized area.”

 

Students who qualify through their Guard or Reserve units may receive tuition assistance through the GoArmyEd program that pays tuition directly to WSC. Student-soldiers are awarded academic credits based on their military service.

 

“VA students can be reimbursed for the cost of approved national tests for admission, college credit or licensing and certification,” Lentz said. “A number of veterans are using their Chapter 33 benefits by transferring them to a spouse or dependent. We have several students using these benefits.”

 

Lentz said the majority of students at WSC are in the Army, Army National Guard or Army Reserves. However, WSC has had students represented from all branches of the military.

 

“I believe the large number of Army students is due to the local Army National Guard unit from Wayne and other Guard and Reserve units from the area giving our students the opportunity to serve in the military while remaining close to home and close to their units,” Lentz said.

 

 

Wayne State Provides Understanding and Support for Student-Soldiers

WSC faculty and administration provide additional support for student-soldiers on a personal level.

 

Soldiers are often required to perform military duties that interfere with college classes, such as attending a weekend drill each month or a two-week additional advanced training each year.

 

“My professors are good about helping when I’m going to be gone. They never have a problem with it,” Bubba said. “I spent all last year getting ready for deployment, so I had WSC hold my records. Two months before, it got cancelled. They [Records and Registration] unfroze my account and gave me an extension on registration. We all want to thank Lynette and Connie for being so awesome at helping get our finances figured out.”

 

Buryanek said it’s important for teachers to be aware that military students have extra responsibilities beyond what others do. He said it’s also important for professors to be willing to work with the student-soldiers and stay in touch with them. Buryanek, as an example, has shown additional support by sending David beef jerky while he was overseas.

 

“I hope that we show them the respect they have earned and deserve,” Engebretsen said. “Our student-soldiers are putting their lives on the line for us. They don’t expect favors, but come to us willing to do the work and earn a degree like any other student. I would hope that we gladly provide them with the support and accommodations they need for interruptions in their studies when their military commitments require, as they either deploy or train.”

 

Lentz said the WSC Counseling Center provides support for student-soldiers and is willing to assist with a veterans’ support group upon request. The Counseling Center also offers personal and professional counseling for any individual students.

 

“If a student is deployed during the semester, the faculty and administration work to find what is best for the student’s particular situation, whether it’s to allow a complete refund of tuition and fees or to give incomplete grades with an extension of time to allow the course work to be completed when the student returns from deployment.”

 

 

Students Learn to Balance Class Work with Military Responsibilities

With additional responsibilities comes additional organization.

 

Bubba said the military gives him the motivation to manage his military duties along with his job and classes.

 

“You know you’re not going to get much sleep,” Bubba said.

 

Bubba recently received a promotion to sergeant and is a career counselor for his unit, which serve as additional responsibilities.

 

“I think Bubba does a great job balancing all of his different responsibilities,” Carrigg said. “There have been times when he has had to miss class because of training, but he always makes up the work with me at a different time.”

 

Mariana said she always must remember to keep her grades up to maintain her tuition assistance.

 

“Just being responsible and disciplined is important, and the military really helps you with that discipline and time management,” she said.

 

Arneson said Mariana is able to manage her various obligations because she takes her National Guard duties very seriously.

 

“I am very proud of her involvement with the Guard,” Arneson said. “She serves as an excellent example of what is ‘right’ with our country. Young people like Mariana juggle their lives, families and obligations to serve our nation well.”

 

 

Aaron and David Share Experiences of Overseas Deployment

Aaron and David have each served for one year overseas for active deployment. Aaron deployed to Balad, Iraq, from July 2010 to June 2011, and David deployed to Dehdadi, Afghanistan, from October 2011 to August 2012.

 

Both soldiers had to make adjustments in their college careers to accommodate for the deployments.

 

“I missed quite a few classes while training up for deployment,” Aaron said. “I had to take all my finals early, but there was no problem with that.”

 

David said WSC makes it very easy to adjust your plans and start up upon return.

 

“It was easy to hold my account, and all I had to do was register for classes when I got back,” he said.

 

Aaron said being in Iraq was almost like being in a completely different world.

 

“It was hot and sandy. I just remember getting off the plane, and it’s like opening an oven door to get out a pizza,” he said. “We would get mortared all the time on base, but they were only about 30 percent accurate. There was one time I was walking back from the shower, and a bomb went off right above me, and I just kept walking. Once I got to my building, I could hear the shrapnel coming down.

 

“You’re scared at first, but then complacency sets in. You don’t know what to think at first, but you warm up to it.”

 

David said one of the most noticeable differences in Afghanistan was the dynamic changes in weather conditions.

 

“Afghanistan has seasons, so it was cool when we got there,” David said. “Until March there was mud up to your ankles. We lived in tents, and the one we were in didn’t have much heat.

 

“It takes you a while to figure out what’s going on. Afghanistan was a giant mine field. There were some times you could hear land mines, and they were the biggest explosions of your life. It would shake the tents and your beds. It happened all the time.”

 

Both David and Aaron said one of the biggest challenges of being overseas was the lack of activity they faced each day.

 

“I’d call home and say there was nothing going on here,” David said. “You did nothing, and you literally saw everything every day. The same thing, same food and you’d lose your mind. We built stuff to pass the time, like take down camps and build stuff with them. We made survival kits, played video games, went to the gym and attended church services.”

 

Aaron said he was also frustrated with his deployment at times.

 

“The only thing that’s negative was we got over there and thought we had a mission, but we really didn’t all year,” he said. “We did busy work for a year and had to find things to keep us there.”

 

 

Deployed Soldiers Face Challenges and Realities after Returning to College

Returning to civilian life is often a challenge for deployed soldiers. Aaron said what helps most is staying busy and having activities to keep him involved.

 

“A lot of people I knew at WSC left, so it was a personal change coming back,” Aaron said. “At first you feel lost and don’t know what to do, but getting back into a routine was really helpful, knowing I had things I needed to do and places to be.”

 

David still struggles to adapt to college life as he continues his first semester back from deployment.

 

“I’ve been strongly discouraged coming back. The only reason I’m back is because of my fiancé,” David said. “I know I need to get back into the swing of things, but it’s tough. We only had seven soldiers in my group overseas, so I sometimes get anxiety attacks in a big class at school. Even walking around campus bothered me.

 

“My head is still always on a swivel, and I people watch. I even feel out of place at my house. I’m just not used to it yet.”

 

Aaron and David said WSC has made the return much smoother despite adaptation difficulties.

 

“My adviser was very supportive and helped me in any way possible. She helped me from A to Z,” Aaron said. “Lynette has also been a big help for us.”

 

Signing up for classes was easy for David, but he also said he’s learned bigger lessons from his deployment.

 

“The luxuries of life and what people strive for, it’s not the same anymore,” he said.

 

Aaron said he’s matured after being deployed and has learned not to take things for granted.

 

“You learn and grow a lot faster than you think,” he said.

 

 

Student-Soldiers Reflect on Most Rewarding Military Moments

Bubba, Mariana, David and Aaron have something else in common besides their military involvement. When asked if they’d do it all over again, all replied “in a heartbeat.”

 

However, the soldiers have special memories of their individual service.

 

“For me, seeing the look on people’s faces when you’re in uniform is priceless,” Bubba said. “I love when people come up to shake your hand.”

 

Mariana said she was given the opportunity to serve right here in Nebraska.

 

“My favorite moment was performing flood duty in Sioux City,” she said. “Knowing that you can help your nation and community is great. We had a good time, but also were very helpful. Another thing is that we get to know all the people in our unit, and they become your family.”

 

David said he will always remember the citizens he helped in Afghanistan.

 

“We would get care packages overseas, and we would give them to the people there,” he said.

 

“One time I gave a remote control car to a dad there, and his face lit up.”

 

Aaron said he continues to reflect on his deployment and the life lessons he’s learned because of it.

 

“The deployment was one heck of an experience,” he said. “You don’t realize how much you take for granted until you come home and see what you’ve missed.”

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