HOWELL: It’s time for warrior-scholars

On this Veteran’s Day, bear in mind one thing: The post-9/11 G.I. Bill is insufficient. It provides the means but not the knowledge nor the ability to effectively apply those means. After invaluable service to our nation, thousands of veterans face the challenge of transitioning from combat to college.

While the number is contested, one thing is clear — most veterans do not graduate. Many of those who fought in defense of freedom do not even make it through their freshman year. We throw money at our veterans through a generous G.I. Bill, then fail to train them how not to fail.

Some organizations have started to recognize the need. Some citizens have begun to recognize that supporting the troops requires supporting their transition to civilian life. While the G.I. Bill provides the means, new organizations are springing up to help show veterans the way.

“Veterans face a unique set of challenges that aren’t faced by traditional freshmen,” said Jesse Reising ’11, the president and co-founder of Operation Opportunity’s Warrior-Scholar Project, an initiative inaugurated at Yale designed to provide war heroes, servicemen and women with the tools and the skills to operate as effectively in college as they do on the battlefield. “They likely have not used academic skills since high school and have to adjust to a very different social and cultural environment,” Reising added.

“Unfortunately,” continued Reising, “these challenges often lead to veterans dropping out of college before earning their degree.”

Veteran dropouts are a reflection of us working in the field of education, not of them. They have the military virtues of discipline, drive, persistence and motivation. But they are provided with little guidance in how to apply those virtues to the disparate environment of academia. What good is the academy, what use are universities, if they can’t empower veterans of virtue to overcome culture shock on campus?

Operation Opportunity held its second Warrior-Scholar Project at Yale University back in June of this year in an effort to address this issue. One of the other co-founders, Nick Rugoff ’11 introduced Reising to Christopher Howell ’14 who served in special operations and domestic counterterrorism in the Australian Army and is now an Eli Whitney Student at Yale College. Rugoff, Reising, and Howell, worked together to launch the non-profit.

The Warrior-Scholar Project at Yale was designed as an academic boot camp held for fourteen hours a day, six days a week, during the first two weeks of June. Seminars were led by some of America’s most renowned professors, alongside rigorous afternoon writing workshops, dinner discussions about the trials and tribulations of transitioning to college life and evening study sessions on the art of analytic reading.

One of the vets in the 2012 pilot course, David Carrell, stressed that he did not “want to play catch up,” when he matriculated at Central Texas Community College. A staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Carrell served in the military for twelve years and said he was interested in clinical psychology. “After fighting in Iraq for years and surviving,” emphasizes Carrell, “my biggest fear is the thought of being outflanked by freshmen.” Carrell recounts a “mental beating,” in his opinion piece published earlier this year.

“It was hard for a 31-year-old man to realize he does not really know how to read scholarly articles and to actually pull information out of and analyze an article,” he revealed. “You forget that writing is a process, not an event.” Now at Vassar College, Carrell exemplifies that ideal warrior-scholar.

On this Veteran’s Day, bear in mind another thing: failure is unacceptable. It is time to support initiatives like these, so that all veterans who want to go to college can excel as well there as they did in war. It is time for America to flip the statistics by empowering a new generation of warrior-scholars. It is time for those of us in education to serve those who have served us. It is time to tutor and mentor our protectors. They deserved it.

David Howell is the Brady-Johnson Predoctoral Fellow at International Security Studies and the Director of Studies of Operation Opportunity’s Warrior-Scholar Project. Contact him at david.howell@yale.edu.

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