SJSU's Veterans ease back into student life with Warriors at Home course

by Sep 28, 2011 6:33 pm

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Veterans Student Organization President Damian Bramlett and Executive Vice President David Richardson speak to veterans during the VSO's first meeting on Wednesday, in the Ohlone room at the student center.

Warriors at Home is a first time course offered this semester to student veterans at SJSU.The class was created by assistant health science professor Anne Demers and psychology professor Elena Klaw.

Prior to starting this class with Demers, Klaw had some experience with veterans when she worked at the Menlo Park branch of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Hospital.

For Demers, working with veterans hit a little closer to home because  she has a son who was in the military and was deployed three times, she said.

Demers said after her son returned from his first deployment, she spent a few weeks with with him and his buddies to see how they were doing.

"They seemed to be OK," Demers said. 

When the soldiers came back from their second deployment, Demers said the stories changed.

"The stories were very, very different," said Demers. "They were dark, very depressing."

Demers said many stories about how the soldiers felt were very similar to what she heard from young people who grew up on the streets, a population she was more familiar working with.

It was around this time that Demers became more concerned and shifted her work toward the support of veterans.

The course is being offered for the first time this semester, but Klaw and Demers said the process for getting the class started began in 2009.

"Dr. Demers and I received a grant from the Blue Shield Foundation to assess the needs of student veterans regarding having healthy relationships once they transition home," Klaw said.

A large survey of student veterans was taken across California regarding their satisfaction in relationships, their needs in relationships and their risk for violence in relationships, Klaw said.

In the fall of 2010, discussion groups were held on campus by both professors and discussed issues with student veterans about relationships and transitioning from military to civilian life, she said.

"The discussion groups gave us lots of insight into the needs of veterans in their own words," Klaw said.

In order to address these issues, Klaw said there needed to be a course that any student veteran on campus could take.

Demers and Klaw got together to propose a course and a curriculum that would deal with transitioning home, into college and civilian relationships.

The class was approved by the department of undergraduate studies this spring to be offered as a Fall 2011 course, Demers said.

Junior health administration major Tim Saechao spent five years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman and is enrolled in the Warriors at Home class.

"It was a big culture shock, when I first got to boot camp," Saechao said. "I wasn't used to having people yell at me in my face, going to bed at nine o'clock every night and getting up at four-thirty, five in the morning."

After boot camp, everything settled down and Saechao said he made a lot of friends while in the Navy who he is still friends with today.

Saechao said he feels that this class could be helpful for student veterans.

"Some of the stuff that we learned just recently would have been very valuable if I would have known before my last relationship," Saechao said.

David Richardson, a student assistant, helped Klaw with the class as well.

Richardson said he was in the Marines for four and a half years, applied for a position as a Marine security guard, and remained in that position for three years.

"I've been giving my input as a vet and going through the material that Dr. Klaw at the time was prospectively looking at for course material, textbooks articles and whatnot," Richardson said.

Richardson read the material and gave his feedback and input to Klaw.

"Some of the stuff I wasn't too thrilled with and luckily that stuff didn't make it into the class," Richardson said. "Some of the stuff was fairly negative, conveying that sterotypical person that's probably in the military, I just thought it was going to go over well."

Mark Pinto is also a student in the Warriors at Home class and a graduate student in the master of fine arts program.

He said he served in the Marines for 20 years and joined to achieve his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.

"Achieving the goal of becoming a pilot was a very rewarding thing, and then after that I think you realize that it's like a lot of dreams," Pinto said. "Flying is wonderful but there's a lot of work that goes into it and it becomes a job."

When Pinto left the military, he said the greatest transition that he had to deal with was no longer having structure.

After getting out he said he thought he would take advantage of his GI Bill.

"I had time and I had an opportunity to go to school and said 'I may as well go back, and I love photography' so I tried to get my masters in photography so I'm in the MFA program," Pinto said.

Richardson said it is a shock for some veterans being on campus because there is not the same structure in civilian life as their is in the military.

"It's difficult having that much structure and having it pulled away from you," Richardson said. "I've been out 10 years and it's still ingrained."

Pinto said even though he is not a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, he joined the class so he could become more aware of what these veterans are going through on the campus.

"This class is kind of a way to plug them in to the services that are available," Pinto said.

Ningcam Chung, junior justice studies major, is also enrolled in the Warriors at Home class and served in the Army for three years.

"The three years I probably learned a lot more about myself and who I am and who I want to become than if I went to community college right after high school," he said.

Chung said when he first got out of the military he did have trouble transitioning into a college atmosphere.

"I pretty much did everything by myself," Chung said. "I went to school, I went to study, to the mall, to the movies, I didn't socialize as much as I did before I went in."

Chung said he wasn't sure if that behavior was normal, but the reason Chung joined the class is simple.

"I was hoping to have an easier time dealing with other students," Chung said. "I pretty much speak more in this class than other classes."

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