Presence of student-veterans has doubled on Main Campus.
At the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month, of the 11th year of the new millennium, Temple held its third annual Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony in Founder’s Garden. More than 80 veterans, invited guests, ROTC cadets and student bystanders attended the ceremony on Friday, marking the 93rd anniversary of Veteran’s Day.
“Being a veteran crosses all lines,” said speaker Doreen Loury, a veteran of the United States Marines Corps.
This fall, approximately 513 self-identified veteran students enrolled at Temple, 97 of which are out-of-state. In addition, Temple Japan has 70 veterans enrolled.
The camaraderie Loury spoke of motivated junior film and media arts major Ryan Conklin to help form the Temple Veterans Association in 2010 with veterans Hyman Lee, a business major, Matt Neri, a human resource management major and Matt Parker, a finance major.
“It wasn’t people that you served with, but it’s all the same,” Conklin said.
Conklin and Lee were connected through Debbie Campbell, senior assistant dean of undergraduate programs and adjunct instructor within Fox School of Business.
Temple Veterans Association’s 42 members are full veterans and the majority are active duty.
“We started knocking on doors, trying to figure out how many veterans there are on campus, ask for record…we realized that there’s a lot of veterans on [Main Campus], so we wanted to have some kind of base,” Conklin said.
Lieutenant Colonel Marco Young, Temple ROTC recruiting operation officer and instructor, credited the high enrollment of veterans this year to the university’s programs.
“We still have people coming,” Laura Reddick, associate director for adult and veteran student recruitment, said. “There’s more but they don’t identify as vets because they don’t have benefits. We can’t track them because they don’t self-identify.”
At the same time, Young said his program had a 10 percent net increase in enrollment this year.
The 2010 Census counted 981,646 veterans in the state of Pennsylvania.
Reddick predicted that the number of veterans at Temple, which doubled in the last year, has a lot to do with the federal Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, which went into effect in August 2009.
The bill offers financial aid, housing stipends and money for books and supplies at any university to Gulf War-era II veterans, meaning those that served after Sept. 11, 2001. To be eligible, these veterans must have served for at least 90 days, or had to have been discharged with a service-related disability after 30 days of service, according to the American Council on Education.
The amount of aid a veterans receives depends on his or her length of service, if they are studying in-state or out-of-state, if the university is public or private and whether they are studying domestically or internationally.
Reddick classified Temple as a military-friendly school, and said that local community colleges have referred students to the university.
Temple Veterans Association provides a networking and social outlet for student veterans to know what benefits are available to them and how to obtain them.
“A lot of people, and the military’s kind of at fault for this, a lot of…veterans don’t know so much what they’re entitled to or how benefits work,” Conklin said. “It all comes down to what your situation is. Everybody’s different.”
“It’s easy to lose track of everything,” Conklin added.
It’s a concern to Reddick, whose office acts as an intermediary between the university’s departments and student veterans.
Reddick, along with Campbell and TUCC Director William Parshall, chairs a 30-member task force that works with the Bursar’s Office, Student Financial Services, Admissions, the Disability Resource Center, among others, to determine and process veterans’ eligibility for financial aid. The task force began in January 2010, and meets monthly.
“We use that body as a way of trying to mainstream the process…all the schools [within Temple] had to go to training in June, which slowed down the application of benefits,” Reddick said.
“When we need to refer a student to a department, we don’t just need to say, ‘Oh, call such-and-such…I just can’t stand having a situation and telling someone about it and nobody does anything about it,” Reddick added.
“That was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life is to come from the military where everything’s so regimented and all the paperwork’s pretty much provided for you, whereas being a civilian and trying to get into college is [overwhelming]. [I] didn’t know how to register for classes, or what classes I needed to take,” Neri said.
Aside from financial worries, student veterans face mental and emotional challenges when starting college.
“Everything felt fast,” Conklin said. “You’re always on such high alert.”
Conklin, a Gettysburg native, was on active duty in the army as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and was recalled in 2008. He served his second Iraq tour from 2009 to 2010. A junior in high school at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Conklin lost interest in attending college and first considered the army at age 17.
Conklin lived in New York between tours, which, he said, made it easier to acclimate to Temple and Philadelphia as a whole.
“The neighborhood I was living in had a large Muslim community, so that was strange to go back to…Philly is the same thing but on a smaller scale,” Conklin said.
Some facets of city life, like police sirens and garbage in the street, can be challenging for veterans to adapt to, Conklin and Neri both said.
“A lot of combat missions we do over there are taking place in cities,” Neri said.
Neri, who said he liked G.I. Joe toys as a child, said joining the military was something he always wanted to do. The Philadelphia native served in the Marines from 2004 until 2008, and began attending Temple in 2009.
“Originally, I wanted to stay in and not necessarily make it a career, but continue for another four years, but by the time I got back from my third deployment in Iraq, I was just so beat. I was just emotionally exhausted at that point,” Neri said.
He added that veterans’ benefits are a popular topic among service people.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get out, can’t wait to go to college,’” Neri said. “Word gets passed around pretty quickly in the military.”
Even after college, uncertainty remains for young veterans.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans was 11.5 percent in 2010. Unemployment for all veterans was 8.7 percent and the rest of the national population was 9.4 percent.
Meanwhile, in July 2010, approximately 25 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans reported having a service-connected disability, versus approximately 13 percent of all veterans.
“The bleakness gets a lot of attention,” Conklin said, adding that he doesn’t have personal experience of struggling with finding a job.
Conklin interned with NBC Olympics in Connecticut, citing his military service as a contributor.
“I got a call, like, the next day. Basically the lady who was interested in bringing me out saw that on my résumé…army veteran, two deployments, and she realized, obviously that comes with maturity, stress levels, and all these other, I guess, experiences that a normal college student didn’t embody through their experiences,” Conklin said.
Many veterans attending Temple are students in Fox School of Business.
“I think the main reason would be that, at least personally, is that military training you get, and then eventually when you get into a leadership role, kind of, I guess, skews you toward the business community, because you’re used to hierarchy and problem solving,” Neri said.
As for Conklin, author of “An Angel From Hell,” an account of his time overseas, he has his independence to fall back on.
“I was that type that would ask questions…[do] personal research…preservation, basically,” Conklin said. “I did a lot of stuff on my own, but that’s how you do it. You do it on your own.”
Amelia Brust can be reached at email@example.com.