I didn’t get to college the traditional route. I joined the Army in 1995 because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I figured the Army was a good way for me to get some money for college. Someday, I’d go to school.
I went to school. At night, on weekends, online. It took me 10 years to get my bachelor’s degree and it was because of the Army’s education initiatives. But it was nearly 18 years into my career when I first set foot on a college campus.
It was an alienating experience of the first order. I can’t speak for other veterans. I wasn’t a young woman or man coming back from war. I was older than my cohorts in graduate school by at least a decade, closer in age to my professors than my peers. In part, I think the age was only part of the reason for my sense of alienation.
The war and my role in the Army was a large part of it. Academia is well known for it’s left leaning political views and in that, my graduate school experience was no surprise. I remember many friendly arguments about who joins the Army and why – whether military service members are just the idiots who can’t or won’t go to college or whether there is a deeper motivation to being willing to serve. We argued about the role of sexual assault in the military and I grew tired of fielding the same questions: were you ever sexually assaulted? What’s it like being in an organization like that?
Another sense of alienation came from my views about feminism and where women fit into society and military life. I sat in professionalization panels for young women and felt my blood pressure rising when we talked about strategies for women professors not to be called a bitch or to be perceived as mean by her students. Here we were arguing against the structures that were holding women back and creating them at the same time.
As much as these arguments were restrictive in the roles I could fill, in other ways, they challenged me to get outside of my own worldview. Being on campus forced me to reconcile my beliefs about what “real life” involved – and campus life is real life. It’s not a life I grew up in. It’s not a life I experienced as a young woman or a young veteran. I suppose my take on things would be different had I not been a late thirties, married, mother of two combat veteran.
But I’m not sure that the combat veteran would have seen things so differently had all those other identities not been at play. Campus is a facet of real life – it is not the entirety of it. And just as my experiences pushed me to see things outside of my own narrow bubble of life through a military lens, it also pushed me to appreciate things about the military that I missed and yet, found me regardless. One of the keys to my making it through grad school were two fellow veterans in the year ahead of me. They spoke the language of the grad student and they spoke my language. These two veterans helped me find a sense of solidarity among the incredibly alienating experience of feeling like I was alone in a room full of people. They really were a lifeline in a lot of ways I’m not either of them appreciate.
My cohort, too, served as a source of solidarity. I wouldn’t have made it through without their willingness to help bring me up to speed in my course work.
I suspect my experiences on campus were both unique and not unique. Finding others who spoke my language was incredibly important. But so was learning the new language and finding out who I was without the uniform. These experiences, I’m sure, are reflected in many veteran experiences on campus. I just happened to write about them.
About Break My Fall
For Josh Douglas, broken by the impotent rage of combat and loss, pain is the only thing that feels real until he meets Abby Hillard. In Josh, Abby sees a puzzle for someone else to solve even though she deeply feels the pull to free the darkness that cloaks him. Break My Fall by USA Today Bestselling author, Jessica Scott, is the second book in an emotional new adult series about a group of young veterans adjusting to life away from the military. They’ve got a lot to learn about life away from war – and college may or may not be the place for them to learn it.
Jessica Scott is an Iraq war veteran, an active duty army officer and the USA Today bestselling author of novels set in the heart of America’s Army. She is the mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs, and wife to a retired NCO. She and her family are currently wherever the army has sent her.
She’s also written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View Regarding War, and IAVA. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/New Dawn and has had the honor of serving as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas twice.
She’s pursuing a graduate degree in Sociology in her spare time and she’s been featured as one of Esquire Magazine’s Americans of the Year for 2012.
Jessica is also an active member of the Military Writers Guild.