Steven Denman

Event coordinator for the Student Veterans Association Tania Nesser and nutrition senior Amanda Lavers play cornhole at the SVA tailgate Saturday afternoon. Jumbo janga was another popular game that was played at the tailgating event. 

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

This past Saturday, a group of student veterans enjoyed an afternoon at the Student Veterans Association tailgate. In the burnt orange blur of pre-game festivities, these Longhorns blended in with the rest of the crowd despite the fact they’re actually quite rare. There are approximately 750 veterans studying at UT. Stephen Ollar, SVA president and economics senior, said there were only two veterans in this year’s incoming freshman class of over 8,000, which means that the number of veterans on campus is, at least for now, staying small.

Small, however, doesn’t necessarily mean close-knit. UT doesn’t “flag” students as veterans in the same way that it doesn’t list students’ hometown or ethnicity in the directory. This makes it difficult for veterans at UT to identify each other. Ollar said he has “sporadically met a few” ex-military students in his classes but that “a lot of veterans don’t identify themselves as such.” Organizations like the SVA, which seeks to support veterans and the dependents of veterans in the UT community, play a crucial role in helping veterans find a community at the 40 Acres.

Members of the SVA community, including Ollar and government and history senior Steven Denman, claimed a small patch of grass just north of the stadium for their tailgate.

Before coming to UT, Ollar and Denman were both stationed with the Army in Ft. Richardson, Alaska. Now they are both working toward law school. Denman, originally from Michigan, said he chose to come to UT after leaving the Army because of Austin’s warm weather — and because he felt that the “pro-liberal” Austin culture would give him the “perspective of the left, the middle and the right” that the military lacked.

Ollar, in contrast, is a lifelong Texan and a second-time UT student. Ollar was born and raised in Midlothian, a small town outside of Dallas. After earning a cell and molecular biology degree from UT, he joined the Army. Now he is back at UT to earn an economics degree after finding that “there’s not a lot of options available for veterans.” 

As they drank and talked, the two men revealed the difficulties of rejoining civilian life as a student. The social life of a student veteran, Ollar said, can be “lonely — an uphill battle.”

“You leave your whole life,” Ollar said. “The Army buys you a ticket and you start your life over again.”

The traditional social scenes at UT are also largely closed off to veterans. Though Ollar said that some student veterans join organizations like pre-professional fraternities or educational clubs, they don’t always feel welcome. 

But for many of UT’s student veterans, the same life experience that hinders their integration into student life influences their academic pursuits. Middle Eastern studies senior Christi Crews joined the Navy at 18 after the emotional turmoil of her first love being killed in Iraq. After leaving the Navy, she “decided to educate [herself] about the Middle East instead.”

In the Middle Eastern studies program at UT, Crews has “learned to love and appreciate the [Middle Eastern] culture for what it is … and to negotiate and find middle ground and common interests with people who have different opinions.” Crews says she hasn’t had trouble making friends at UT but admits that she doesn’t “fit into that 18, 19, 20-year-old student category.”

Looking around the tailgate, Crews said most of her friends are from the SVA.

The SVA holds tailgates for every home game and Ollar said about 80 people attended the event throughout the day. Although most attendees are veterans or their acquaintances, Ollar said, “If you love a vet, you’re welcome [to attend].”

Printed on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 as: UT vets unite for football fun

Jasmine-Rose Henderson greets students arriving at the Student Veterans Services office Tuesday morning for an information session about obtaining class credit for military service. The event is part of UTÂ’s first Veteran Week, which seeks to guide the approximately 640 student veterans adjust to civilian life.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

After ending his military service in 2009, sociology senior Donald Davis returned to the classroom for the first time in over a decade, but had trouble assimilating to civilian life at the University after receiving little proper guidance from University resources because of his status as a non-traditional student.

This week, the Student Veteran Center is hosting the first Veteran Welcome Week to help the approximately 640 student veterans on campus who may be in similar situations.

Ben Armstrong, former aviation electrician for the Marine Corps and current coordinator for the center, said the mission of the week and of the center itself is to connect, integrate and develop student veterans, especially individuals who leave the military and come to the University and are not sure how to fully access the resources available to them.

“We try to act as that pipeline to help them better understand the conversion,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the events are being held to clear up certain questions and concerns student veterans have had in the past.

Davis, a former Army medic, said he had to discover what military benefits he had as a student alone because he didn’t get the help he needed from the University. He said he struggled to decipher the process disabled veterans go through to attend the University and acquire benefits through the GI Bill.

“I didn’t have peer-to-peer connection or any student advocacy that helped me go through that,” Davis said. “It took me a few semesters to get acclimated to the experience and it was extra pressure to keep up because I hadn’t been in an actual classroom in over 10 years.”

The UT Student Veteran’s Association collaborated with Veteran Welcome Week by hosting a lecture Monday by the organization’s president.

Steven Denman, history senior and former Army combat medic, transferred to the University in 2010 and is now the events coordinator for SVA. Denman said the purpose of the organization is to maintain the unity that student veterans had while in the military.

“Most veterans miss that sense of brotherhood and belonging that the military provided, so we try to replicate that at SVA,” Denman said. “A lot of what we try to do is help military students get out of their personal bubble by helping them meet new people and get involved because it’s such a large institution that it’s easy to get lost in the system.”

Denman said the Veteran Center provides useful resources that have helped him work out his plans to go to law school and it could help others looking for guidance.

Printed on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 as: Program helps student veterans adjust