Today is the day we honor and recognize the service members who have completed their time in the military. Earlier this week, I was on a United flight to Kona in order to participate in the NASPA Western Regional Conference, headed by Leah Jarnagin. The Conference, by the way, was OUTSTANDING! On this same flight were many military personnel. Because I think about Hawaii as paradise and the place we travel to for respite, fun, and relaxation, I assumed that these service members were on a break for some well-deserved R & R. Respecting their privacy, I did not say a word to any of them on the entire trip from BWI to Chicago and then on to Kona. But curiosity got the best of me, and as we were filing off the plane in Kona, I asked the service member just ahead of me in line if he and his fellow service members were here for R & R. He smiled at me and said, “No we’re coming home for good; we live here.”
I was overjoyed in hearing the good news! When I arrived at the Western Regional Conference, I was sitting next to a community college colleague who told me that their college was creating a center for veterans and they were involving veterans every step of the way in the design of the center. I told her that from what I’ve heard, asking veterans what they want and need is the best way to approach any kind of support since getting support seems to be a sensitive area for some veterans.
Following our conversation, I thought about what it would have been like if I had been able to enlist in the military as I wanted to do following my experience in ROTC in high school. I had a variety of reasons for wanting to enlist, and I wonder today whether or not my motives would have been fulfilled.
During this reflection, it became clear to me that the best way to provide services that meet the needs of veterans today is to find out why the service member volunteered; whether or not that motive has been fulfilled through their time in the service; and find out what their goal is now when they return. I would venture a guess that many of the service members who had their motives satisfied for entering the service will need less support than those who were disappointed because their experience did not match what they imagined they would receive. These are the service members who may be the prime candidates for intervention in order to retain them in college until a satisfactory completion. If student services would focus on veterans as a group for retention, the retention rate for veterans and for the institution will be affected because of the number of veterans we will see over the next couple of years.
What has been their experience? What do they want now? Are our services sufficient to meet their goals now?