Military connections affect students’ college experience

Close connections to the military — such as serving while attending college, having a military background, or having relatives in the military — give some students unusual perspectives on college life. “You live in two separate worlds,” said junior and Army wife Mary Gonzales. “I live in a world where I go and sit in Core lecture and write Core papers, and then I live in a world where my life revolves around acronyms and field trainings and deployment scares.”

Mattie Wilkinson | Army National Guard

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Balancing life as both a student and a soldier requires organization, freshman Mattie Wilkinson said. Wilkinson currently serves as a private in the Army National Guard.

One weekend per month Wilkinson goes to drill with his unit. Wilkinson has some techniques that he uses to help him balance being a student and a soldier as the two separate parts of his life.

“When you put on the uniform and you go to drill, you just kind of have to focus on that,” Wilkinson said. “You’re no longer a civilian. You’re no longer a student. You really just have to live in the moment. You have to divide it up in your mind.”

The use of different alarm tones helps him differentiate between getting up to go to class versus getting up and going to drill, Wilkinson said.

When military life and college life intersect it makes Wilkinson uncomfortable, he said.

“I don’t like being seen in my uniform,” Wilkinson said. “You stand out a lot. You have to act different. You can’t really be who you are. You have to be a soldier, because you represent something, which is a difficult thing to do.”

Mary Gonzales | Military Spouse

Junior Mary Gonzales lives 1500 miles away from her husband, Spc. Ysidro Gonzales.

“Having been married a year and a half, I think I’ve maybe spent a total of six months with him,” Gonzales said.

After Gonzales spent some time living in El Paso, Texas, with her husband, the two decided together that being separated was worth her finishing her degree, she said. Not everyone approves of their decision, though.

“Everyone says that I should be with my husband,” Gonzales said. “What they don’t understand is that this was my husband’s decision. I am here because this is where he wants me to be.”

Gonzales knows the separation is worth it, she said.

“No matter how long you’re separated, no matter how long a deployment or field training or overseas tour, it doesn’t matter,” Gonzales said. “That moment where you’re back together again is the most priceless moment on the face of the earth.”

Stuart Hopson | Air Force Veteran 

Junior Stuart Hopson spent nearly 10 years as a staff sergeant in the Air Force. Hopson began attending Whitworth after a medical retirement.

The adjustment from life in the Air Force to life as a full-time, traditional student has brought challenges for Hopson, he said.

“I was an expert in my career field, and to come to college and be a student again, and be a traditional student on top of that, being 30 years old, and going back to basically square one is humbling,” Hopson said.

Hopson’s time in the Air Force provided him with a variety of life experiences that many college students have not encountered.

“Army airborne guys would have to jump out of the plane, and I would be the guy who opened up the door for them,” Hopson said. “I would drop Humvees and tanks and do resupply missions. When I was deployed, I would do a lot of air to land infiltration of marines, army and special forces.”

Such a background can make it hard for him to relate to other students, Hopson said.

“When people ask me about my life before college, it’s kind of hard to tell them what my life was like, trying to put myself in other people’s shoes to be able to explain,” Hopson said.

Extensive training and a well-traveled history with destinations give Hopson a depth and breadth of experience beyond that of most college juniors.

“I got to be a very select, elite part of the military,” Hopson said. “I was enlisted, yet I could fly. I wasn’t operating the airplanes, but my peers were officers and pilots, navigators. They ended up being my friends. It was a tight-knit group. It was such a small career field that I ended up knowing all of them. It was kind of like seeing your high school buddies all over the world.”

 

Student military connections span many branches of the military. Additionally, many Whitworth students are involved in the ROTC, an Army leadership training and qualification program. Whatever their connections, these students often have different challenges than other college students.

Alyssa Brooks Staff Writer

Contact Alyssa Brooks at abrooks17@my.whitworth.edu

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