Trading combat boots for books
Greg Freisinger, Ohio State's first Tillman Military Scholar, shares his experience as a student-veteran and the important role community service has played in his transition to civilian life.
With the current drawdown plan for U.S. military forces, many service members will be leaving active duty in the near future to use the GI Bill and attend college. It is not always easy to identify veterans around campus, as most look nothing like your stereotypical John J. Rambo, walking down a secluded road with an olive drab duffel bag. But there are currently around 1,600 students and 1,200 faculty/staff at Ohio State with prior military service, and it is projected that these numbers will steadily increase.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Ohio State is the No. 5 best college in the nation for veterans. And, for the sixth year in a row, the university has been named a top military friendly school by Victory Media, placing it in the top 15 percent of schools nationally. These are important accomplishments for our university, due in no small part to the support provided by Ohio State’s Office for Military and Veteran Services. Their assistance was instrumental when, in 2010, my wife and I decided to leave active duty and move back to Ohio.
Susan and I were both Army engineer officers stationed in Hawaii when we decided to return to school. Susan was actually an ROTC cadet at Ohio State, and it was her previous, great experience with this university that was the deciding factor for us. The staff in the Office for Military and Veteran Services helped us with transitioning to Columbus, academic advising and coordinating our benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, I’m a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, while Susan is working towards a second bachelor’s degree in interior design.
It might be hard to believe, but we student veterans are much like traditional students. Both groups are in important transitional life stages. Incoming freshmen are often getting their first taste of freedom away from home, while incoming veterans are experiencing civilian life and the removal of military structure.
An important aspect of my transition into civilian life has been a continued emphasis on community service. The importance of service was impressed upon me in the military. Putting the needs of others above your own was expected.
Since starting graduate school, I have been volunteering with Communities In Schools, an organization that provides mentors for local middle school students. I really enjoy helping the kids with their homework, talking with them about the military and graduate school and answering whatever crazy questions they dream up.
Susan and I are also active with Team Rubicon, a national, veteran-based organization that deploys response teams following natural disasters. Through Team Rubicon, we have both deployed within the U.S. and truly enjoyed the experience, helping those who don’t have the resources to help themselves. Whether we are interacting with grateful people, or just reminding ourselves to keep everything in perspective, community service has been crucial to our lives after the military.
As a college student, whether you’re a veteran or not, it is easy to get caught up with personal issues and not think about much beyond school or close friends and family. Community service helps broaden your outlook and facilitate personal and professional growth. Fortunately, Ohio State offers many opportunities for veterans to get involved in the community, with organizations like Vets4Vets and 1 Day for the K.I.A.
In fact, Susan and I are in the process of starting a veteran service organization ourselves, as a way to not only serve the community, but to help integrate Ohio State’s traditional and veteran students. We believe a service-based student organization could be the common ground needed between traditional and military students to form lasting and important relationships. We all have distinct skill sets, and if we come together, we can help improve our community and ourselves.