Celebrating Veteran’s Day is a way to honor the service of all those who have served our country, including 335,000 military veterans in Kentucky.
Some have enrolled in higher education to further their civilian careers, including 400 veterans currently enrolled at Western Kentucky University.
One of those students is 36-year-old Army veteran Philip Parsons of Morgantown. He served in the infantry for 13 years as a rifleman and machine gunner, and rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
Parsons served in Iraq, suffered through PTSD, depression and divorce, and at one point, attempted suicide.
Parsons says the difficulties don’t end when you leave the military. He spoke with WKU Public Radio's Rhonda Miller about his mission now to help other veterans through some of those challenging times.
Miller: So now you’re at Western Kentucky University. How did you manage to get to school? What was that transition?
Parsons: It was very difficult. It was intimidating. I was drawing unemployment and that was coming to its end. I was down at the unemployment office here in Bowling Green and I saw a pamphlet for Veterans Upward Bound. I’d always wanted to go to college.
Miller: What attracted you about that brochure? Was there a phrase or anything that attracted you?
Parsons: Yes, it was something about education and preparing veterans for college. And I was like, “Oh, maybe they can show me the way.” As a soldier that’s really one of our biggest challenges I find outside. We don’t have enough people to show us the way. Because that’s how we’re trained. We’re trained to follow or lead. But even if you lead, because you already know, ‘cause you’ve already been trained or taught. But not when you get out, there’s nothing. There’s nobody. You’re just by yourself. Some of that transition, if you don’t have somebody there to kind of lead you along or tell you, it becomes very difficult.
Miller: What are you studying and how did you determine what your studies should be?
Parsons: I’m studying social work. The idea is so I can become a therapist and work with other veterans.
Why? Really, because of my story and my experiences of just needing help. I just didn’t know what to do. There’s still a lot of that soldier inside of me and I need to still continue to look back for my other fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling.
Miller: You’ve been in college quite a while now.
Parsons: Yes, I’m a senior now.
Miller: What are the challenges you faced, being a student among 20,000 young students, who may have just come from high school and haven’t faced the kind of things you’ve faced?
Parsons: So being here with this large group, sometimes with the amount of people, at times, there was a little bit of anxiety.
Miller: What makes you anxious, when you’re on campus or in school?
Parsons: The strangest stuff. In the military, you’re just trained to look for something wrong. You come out here and you don’t really stop it. You’re so alert and so aware of things that look out of place, and there are so many things here that look out of place, coming from such a structured military. environment.
Miller: What would look out of place, for instance?
Parsons: OK, so just walking to class and you notice people up on the roof, fixing the roof. Or a car that’s parked where it’s not supposed to be parked. We have a lot of that here.
Miller: So these are things that would be an alert, like a red flag, if you’re in combat?
Parsons: They would definitely heighten your awareness.
Miller: Well, you’ve gone a long way through the military and through college now, and just kind of looking at everything now, what’s your vision of your life, what you want to do?
Parsons: My graduation is going to be in spring and then hopefully, in the fall, I’ll start my master’s program here at Western. And after that, either to continue in school and get my doctorate or to go right to work with the VA helping veterans. No matter what I do from here on out, it’s going to be helping people.
Miller: Well, Philip Parsons, thank you so much for talking with us. It’s been just very wonderful speaking with you and thank you for sharing all that with us.
Parsons: You’re welcome, Rhonda.
Note: You can see a televised interview featuring Philip Parsons on our sister station WKU-PBS on the weekly public affairs program OUTLOOK, airing Saturday, Nov.14 at 7:30 p.m. Central time and Sunday, Nov.15 at 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Central. The interview will be available on the wkuetv You Tube Channel Tuesday, Nov. 17.