Veterans marching to college in larger numbers

2011-09-03T00:00:00Z 2011-09-03T07:06:18Z Veterans marching to college in larger numbersBy PATRICK B. ANDERSON La Crosse Tribune

More veterans entering the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse are seeking help transitioning from military to college life. Just three students last year attended a specialized orientation program for veterans. Eighteen came to this year’s, held Friday.

Dylan Thomas, a UW-L student and veteran, organized the event, “From Combat to College.” He expects orientation services for veterans to play an even larger role in years to come with drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With everyone coming back in the next two years, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more people coming,” he said.

The U.S. will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 23,000 by this time next year.

UW-L has more than 200 veteran students, 35 of whom enrolled for the first time this fall.

Structure versus chaos.

That’s how Thomas describes the difference between the military and college.

No supervisor giving orders. No days planned out to the hour.

It’s just one transition veterans face when they leave the battlefield to pursue higher education.

“You know when you’ll have classes,” said Thomas, who served in the Navy in Japan, Hawaii and Guam. “But you don’t know anything else.”

The event is set up like a buffet of information, connecting student veterans directly with services, so they know where to go when they have questions as the school year unfolds, said Nick Buroker.

Buroker, 25, did a tour in Iraq with the Air Force before starting at UW-L in 2009 and joining the university’s computer science program.

“A lot of it is just getting back to that learning mentality that you have in high school,” he said.

Orientation shows the incoming veteran where to go for questions about the various aspects of college life, such as receiving benefits, career planning, counseling and disability services.

James Overesch transferred to UW-L this year from another university after doing two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps. He came to the event to meet other veterans, see the campus and find some tips on how to lead a  less structured college life.

“The hardest thing for me is not having a set schedule,” he said. “Being able to balance all that out.”

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