UB Veterans' Association hosts Combat to Classroom event

Student veterans band together to network and support one another

The Spectrum

The UB Veterans' Association plays an active role in the lives of students who have managed to juggle civil duty with civil studies.

Justine Bottorff found that difficult.

She served two terms in Iraq, and, like her fellow veterans, she returned to the United States in hopes of assimilating into civilian life smoothly.

She knew no one in Buffalo. She struggled with finding relief in classmates and peers who did not have the experiences, the memories and the fighting time she had. She knew resources existed but lacked the inspiration to go after them.

Then she found UB's veteran community.

"I think the biggest thing is bringing veterans together because when you feel like you are alone, it's hard," Bottorff said. "It's good to be around other people who have had similar experiences. Part of my function is to help other veterans. That's the whole point of networking and meeting other veterans - to help other veterans - because who else will do that better?"

The UB Veterans' Association is an international veterans organization that aims to bring together student vets from across the globe. On Wednesday, the organization held Combat to Classroom, a biweekly event that educates veterans on the student and career resources that are offered at UB.

There are students at UB, both domestic and international, who have come back from serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and places all over the world. Now that they're on campus, they're finding support, friendships and networking opportunities through the association.

This week's meeting hosted guest speakers Holly Justice, an engineering career counselor in the UB Career Services office, and Dr. Cathleen Morreale, the coordinator of the Public Service Internship program.

Josh Hays, a senior political science major and the president of the organization, credits the group for bringing together this population of the student body and creating a more hands-on learning and social environment for them. In addition to Combat to Classroom, Hays and his team are hosting other on-campus events, including a free breakfast in the Tiffin Room next Tuesday, to bring veterans together.

Wednesday's seminar emphasized the importance of r?(c)sum?(c)-building skills, interviewing and various career services offered to student vets - including on-campus recruiting, workshops and the "meet a mentor" program, which links current students with UB alumni. Specifically geared toward fine-tuning the skills and work experience of vets, the event's hosts supplied helpful information to the students who are looking forward to their careers outside the classrooms and off the battlefield.

According to Justice, who spoke to the students about job skills and hiring tools, there are certain hurdles that former servicemen and women must jump to be successful in the market.

"The military loves jargon," Justice said. "Everything has a code name. Everything has an acronym. Civilians don't know what you're talking about."

UB Career Services will help veterans make the translation so veterans' r?(c)sum?(c)s represent what they've accomplished in a way employers can understand.

Interviewing skills and experience are vital for a veteran student, Justice said.

Morreale, who wrote her dissertation on veterans affairs and whose brother and father served in the military, agreed. She highlighted the importance of an "intentional learning agenda" through internships and outside-of-the-classroom experience.

It is all part of the extensive work to create a more welcoming community for student vets, according to Hays.

"We are looking to keep all the programs in UB," Hays said. "Before we were actually focusing on community service outward. Now, we are focusing on building the community inward."

That's when Hays and the group instituted Combat to Classroom.

The globally connected student organization is gaining political attention.

Michael J. Little, the veteran legislation analyst for New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, attended the event on Wednesday. He said the UB Veterans' Association is a key player in veteran assistance.

"As the veteran legislation analyst, what we do is we want to get out to the local communities and really talk to the citizens," Little said. "I felt that, with UB leading the way in mental health training with some of their campuses and their work with the [Veterans Affairs], I felt that it was important for me to come here and just talk to the students and listen to what they have to say."

Brandon Gilliland, the veterans financial aid adviser, is confident in UB's student veterans. He believes, with the academic talent and devotion these students have, the organization will make significant headway nationwide.

"With this population, they are academically driven; they have proven themselves as good students, so that gives us a lot of unity to have the voices heard on campus," Gilliland said.

Shaun Boadi was searching for this unity.

Boadi, a sophomore political science major, realized how difficult it was transitioning into civilian life following his three-year term in Fort Bragg.

"Getting back to the real world - learning how to study without someone telling you what to do all the time - in the military, you are always told what to do," Boadi said. "Now, you are back on your own."

Like many of his student comrades, Boadi has found comfort in the social engagement the organization and its events, like Combat to Classrooms, brings.

"It gives us a community at the school because, like they said, we are the only ones here for us," Boadi said. "We've all had the same experiences. It's a support group for each other."

Royce Burgess, the vice president of the organization and a senior political science major, believes providing support and services to vets is vital for a smooth transition into civilian life.

Burgess, who is a returning veteran on inactive reserve, served in Afghanistan for eight months. He believes the international connections and membership that the association has, including members from South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, is creating a community that not only cares about veterans but also can relate to them.

The UB Veterans' Association is having a clothing and household items drive to benefit the Veterans Residential Program, organized by Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment - a veterans support organization. Drop-off locations are at the Student Life office, Student Leadership office and room 101 in Allen Hall on South Campus.

email: news@ubspectrum.com