Regional
9:02 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Young Veteran at WKU Helps Other Military Students Navigate Maze of College Life

Kent Johnson, now a WKU senior, served as a U.S. Marine in As Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
Kent Johnson, now a WKU senior, served as a U.S. Marine in As Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
Credit Kent Johnson

Monday is Veteran's Day, and all across our region and nation, people are taking part in parades and ceremonies honoring those who have served in the military.

With U.S. personnel still fighting in Afghanistan, and following eight years of fighting in Iraq that formally ended in 2011, we thought we would introduce you to a young veteran from our region who is now helping other veterans create new lives after leaving the active service.

Kent Johnson joined the U.S. Marines in 2004 after graduating from high school in Columbia, Tennessee. As a member of a Marine Corp Infantry Unit, Kent served two tours in the Middle East, including a combat deployment to a town outside of Fallujah, Iraq. He got out of the service in 2008.

Here are some excerpts from our interview with Kent:

What was life like for you after you got out of the Marines?

"I worked as a pizza cook for a little bit when I got out, just kind of decompressing and enjoying civilian life and working.  But while I was in, I really got this passion to go to school. I didn't have any college experience beforehand, so I discovered Veterans Upward Bound, a program here on campus that helps veterans get ready for school and then get into school."

"I'm a senior now, and I'm employed at the military student services office. So I've come full circle, and now I'm helping veterans stay in school. I've also gotten married and have a son who is now sixteen months old."

How do your experiences in the military impact your life as a college student?

"I think I can say this for a lot of the military students here: we have more of a dedication to finishing our degree. We're here for a reason. We're not here just because it's the next thing you're supposed to do after high school. We have more of a drive, I guess, to finish school, and do good in school."

"As far as the classroom experience, I'm majoring in international relations and political science. So having been in those conflicts as part of our foreign policy, I enjoy now being able to see the reasoning behind the things we were doing."

In your current job at WKU's office of military student services  you work with a lot of other veterans of different ages, helping them in their efforts to return to the classroom, or get into college for the first time. What kinds of challenges do you see them facing?

"A lot of us are older than the average college student, so that's something a lot of us have to get used to. I think benefits is another thing--there are so many different benefits military students can use towards their education. It's hard for them to grasp it all and make sure their using all of their benefits correctly."

So as far as our job in military student services, we try to help them understand how to navigate that confusing area. And we can help as far as any issues they have from being in the service, whether it's PTSD, an injury--something they might have to work around on the academic side."

As a young veteran, does Veterans Day have a special significance to you?

Kent Johnson in the studios of WKU Public Radio
Kent Johnson in the studios of WKU Public Radio
Credit WKU Public Radio

"It does. A few semesters ago on Veterans Day we did a roll call, and we got volunteers and spent all day reading the names off a list of KIA (killed in action) from Iraq and Afghanistan up until that date. And it took all day to read this names, just one after the other."

"For me, personally, there were several names on that list who were guys I was over there with. You always think about the guys you were in with, but I think we all have our individual Veterans Days. On a day when we have an IED (improvised explosive device) go off, and we lose somebody, you'll see their pictures posted on Facebook."

"It's great that we have a national holiday when we recognize veterans, but for veterans themselves, it's not just Veterans Day. Every veteran has their own Memorial Day, multiple times a year. But it's great that as a nation we celebrate Veterans Day, recognize, and take time to reflect on it."