Benjamin Armstrong

 

Airforce ROTC students stand in front of the tower during a ceremony honoring Veterans Day on the South mall Monday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

ROTC students take down the American flag and the Prisoner of War flag on the South mall Monday afternoon. Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff  

 

Student members of UT’s ROTC programs stood in formation as the flag raised over South Mall during a Veterans Day ceremony Monday.

The ceremony was a joint effort between the Texas Army, Navy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in order to pay tribute to the men and women that served in the United States Armed Forces.

“It’s important to pay attention to a sacrifice someone has made for you,“ Stephen Ollar, president of the Student Veteran Association and economics senior, said.

He said being a veteran is something to be proud of. He served in the Army before attending UT and, through the association, tries to make life as students easier for veterans at UT.  

“We try to help veterans find friends, find a source of communication, something that can help them from going into some of the pitfalls of being a veteran: the isolation, the loneliness, the suicide that can come with being a veteran,”  Ollar said.

He said it is a common misconception that all veterans suffer from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-service disorders. He said it is easier to relate with people that have been through similar experiences.

Benjamin Armstrong, coordinator of Student Veteran Services, served as a Marine and said he has worked with 1,947 of UT’s student veterans through the Student Veteran Services office. Student Veteran Services opened on Veterans Day 2011 and celebrated its first anniversary Sunday.

“We are a one-stop shop on campus for veterans and their dependents to access this institution and understand how it works,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he is a natural fit for his position, because as a veteran he can connect with student veterans and help them get all the benefits for which they are eligible.

“I give them the lay of the land and a safe haven. The Student Veteran Association gives them that group of fellow travelers to be social with,” Armstrong said.

Lee Leffingwell, Austin mayor and Navy veteran, spoke at the ceremony about his experience during Aviation Officer Training School. He said 40 years later, he still remembers two of his sergeant instructors, who died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. He said the lessons they taught him transferred from active duty into his life as a veteran.

“For my years of experience as mayor and retired Navy commander, I believe that the values you develop and will continue to develop will continue through aspects of your life,” Leffingwell said.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Kopser, commanding officer of Texas Army ROTC, said it is thrilling to watch young students choose a life of service in the Armed Forces when they join one of UT’s ROTC programs.

“It is a huge honor to watch young people raise their right hand to join the United States Armed Forces during a time of war and take an oath to preserve the United States,” Kopser said.

Printed on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 as: Time of appreciation

Veteran Services coordinator Ben Armstrong discusses the opportunities that will be available at the new Veteran’s Center located in Student Services Building 4.104. Armstrong hopes to help veterans that struggle with assimilating back into society after their service. The center offers mentoring, support and serves as an outlet for meeting other veterans.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

When he was 24 years old, Benjamin Armstrong, a recent Marine Corp veteran at the time, asked himself why he was in college. Armstrong was a freshman at Texas State University and had already served in the Persian Gulf and participated in the invasion of Baghdad.

“I was just like, ‘Nobody’s done what I’ve done. Why am I here?’” Armstrong said.

He said he found his answer in time by realizing he didn’t have to be in Iraq or Afghanistan to uphold his marine values but could take time off and work hard at school.

Armstrong is now the student veteran coordinator for the newly unveiled Student Veteran Center. He said he hopes the center can become an area of supportive education where veterans can come if they have trouble adjusting to college and find support with everything from GI bills to health care to job searching.

“We do things very quickly in the military,” Armstrong said. “Once you get out you expect things to run at high pace like in the military and you encounter barriers in the real world.”

Armstrong said barriers veterans can face range from not knowing how to communicate with classmates who are not in the military to the slow process of getting the GI bill in. He compared the culture shock with his own experience of running an aircraft in a dangerous zone one day and playing the name game at Texas State the next.

“We go from military training where there’s structure to the college experience where there’s no structure,” Armstrong said.

The Pat Tillman Foundation and Operation College Promise, two organizations that focus on improving education and support for veterans, recently released a survey that found veterans do better in college when they receive support services from institutions similar to the new Student Veteran Center.

The study, composed of a sample of 200 out of 6,400 student veterans at seven different universities, found student veterans earned an average 3.04 GPA and had an increased retention rate when provided with these support services. The study also found that about 71 percent of veterans earned the credits they pursued in an academic year.

Wendy Lang, director of Operation College Promise, said a successful veteran support system relies on the institution, the framework and forming a task force between departments and other bodies at the school.

Lang said some suggestions to a successful program include creating a lounge for veterans to talk to each other and establishing a mentoring program.

“[This addresses] some of the transitional issues that they’re facing,” Lang said. “Suddenly, they think, ‘my school is making an effort to support me.’”

Global policy graduate student Nicholas Hawkins was 23 years old when he came to freshman orientation. Hawkins was an army veteran and said although orientation did address veteran needs, it didn’t provide nearly enough information.

“I sat in orientation with over 100 freshman where there’s a separate time where veterans go,” Hawkins said. “In the office, you automatically have a place to go, with a familiar face, to get all the Austin benefits and figure it all out.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Center opens, offers support for veterans