Diversity Lecture Series discusses transition from service member to student

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Photo credit: Julie Ostler | Assistant Photo Editor | @jules1lo

The Diversity Lecture Series, organized by the Multicultural Student Council, discussed personal experiences of soldiers coming back from military life and the psychology of young soldiers going and coming back from war.

Director of Utah Valley University’s Veteran Student Success Center and speaker, Sheldon Holgreen, described the struggles of transitioning from civilian life to military life and back to civilian life.

Holgreen joined the Army at 18 years old and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. In just eight months, Holgreen went from graduating high school to securing infrastructures in the Middle East and avoiding improvised explosive devices.

When Holgreen turned 21, he was tasked with tracking corpses that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Holgreen viewed war as a simple way of living because he always had his schedule, meals and outfits planned daily. When he came back and enrolled in school, his life wasn’t as structured and he had to get used to living a life where not everything was planned for him.

“War is a simple thing in the fact that you wake up in the morning and you have two things to do—not die and kill the enemy. When you come home it’s not simple at all. I have to figure out how to register for class,” Holgreen said.

Holgreen said that when he came back home he did not know what an insurance card was.

“The simple aspects of war—I will take it any day over the complexities of life. The fear I felt about being home was much greater than the one I felt being over there.”

According to psychologist, William Erb, the ages between 18-24 are a time of mass development in an individual’s brain. The legal age to enlist in the military is 17 years old. Erb said there are developmental passages a person must go through to successfully cross into adulthood such as establishing autonomy and self-sufficiency, career preparation and developing an independent value system. If soldiers haven’t developed these skills in the military then it may be challenging once they come back to the civilian life and attend college. Erb said the strong bonds soldiers create with their comrades may be difficult for family members and significant others to match.

According to Erb, soldiers have a difficult time relating to their same-age peers about civilian issues.

“For years at a time they had to be totally aware of the circumstances around them, and they get back here—turning off that machinery is hard. There’s often a lot of difficulty focusing,” Erb said.

Veterans may also find themselves uncomfortable with the lack of structure throughout their life compared to how structured their life was in the military.

Erb said psychologists can help veterans with physical and emotional management. Physical management can be teaching them to exercise regularly and eat healthy along with the avoidance of drugs and alcohol. Emotional management may be preparing the service member on how to respond to insensitive questions from civilians and knowing when to decline to speak about the individual’s time in war.

Individuals may assume the Fourth of July is a festive time for service members but the sounds of people yelling and firecrackers going off may resemble sounds they heard during war.

The discussion panel with veterans Holgreen, Jamie Johnson and Gregory Augustin answered students’ questions.

Veteran and Emergency Services Administration major Gregory Augustin said, “I wish we were more patriotic and more united. Civilians should treat military members how you would like to be treated.”

“Student Service members and veterans are often not listened to or just invisible to the normal mainstream students, it’s a great way to remember those who serve the country,” UVUSA Liaison and MSC Executive Chair, Cristobal Villegas said.

The next Diversity Lecture Series will focus on immigration and will be held Dec. 8. Student Service Members and veterans may also find more information at the Veteran Success Center in the Woodbury Business Building, room 100.