By JO ANN CRIPE
Posted: 11/05/2009 12:00:00 AM PST
There are many reasons I love teaching at Butte College. Topping the list are our remarkable students.
Over the last several years the student body at Butte College has experienced an enriching shift. We have become "home" to a growing student population characterized by exceptional levels of dedication and depth: more than 350 veterans of the armed services.
Community colleges across the country are seeing an influx of focused, goal-oriented men and women coming out of the military. We provide cost-effective opportunities to move back into civilian life with a first-rate education and clear pathways to a successful career.
Butte College takes this commitment very seriously. In 2008 Butte opened the Veterans' Resource Center (VRC), a place where vets can connect with essential services including financial aid, educational planning, counseling and job placement. The VRC also provides a much-appreciated space where vets can interact with one another in a relaxed environment.
I spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning there recently, surrounded by overstuffed couches, a kitchenette, study space, computers & and lots of high-energy students exchanging good-natured banter. As I settled in to hear what they had to say, I found myself both informed and inspired.
"I wouldn't be in college if it weren't for the Vets' Center," shared Stanley Bass, who served in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. "It's really hard to come back to college after being away. We build so much trust and brotherhood in the military. We miss that."
"Being able to relate to other veterans helps us keep that connection," added Ramiro Puente, a former Marine. "We rag on each other, but nobody gets offended in here. We're used to having 150 guys looking out for each other. We're brothers and sisters, taking responsibility for one another. Knowing we're all in this together keeps us going."
When asked about the challenges of returning to college, the consensus was clear.
"We're used to structure, and we respect our teachers," said Gabe Wren, VRC staff and a former Marine who continues to serve in the Air National Guard. "We don't always see that in younger students. We want to lead by example, to set the bar a little higher.
"We're struggling just as hard as any student," he added, "but we feel extra responsibility. Personal integrity is our highest value."
Randolph Bazar, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, expressed the group's sentiments: "Some people associate their feelings about the war with all military personnel. We have to bite our tongues when they say negative things about the military. This is who we are, so it feels good to hang out with others who share and respect our experiences."
"I think all young people could benefit from going through Basic Training," commented Kelly Connolly, a young woman who studied to be a medic in boot camp. "You learn a lot about discipline there." Nods all around the room. "It's not just about learning to fight, it's about focus and mutual respect."
Many of the veterans flooding into colleges face significant challenges. Approximately one in five military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained brain injuries that make learning far more difficult. Butte College provides services specifically tailored to address these and many other needs.
"Vets should not be shy," urged James Callas, former Marine and president of Butte's Student Veterans Organization. "Butte has really reached out to us, and we're reaching out to all vets. They can get help here."
Veterans Day is Wednesday, Nov. 11. This internationally observed date was initially established as "Armistice Day," commemorating the 20 million who died during World War I. Since then it has served to honor all veterans — the countless men and women who have sacrificed to preserve freedom.
In many places in the world, a period of respectful silence is observed at the precise moment when, in 1918, the much longed for cease-fire took effect: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Next Wednesday, Butte College will be one of those places.
Jo Anne Cripe is a Chico resident and columnist for North State Voices, which appears each Thursday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.