Combat to classroom: Student veterans form group to help with transition

Members of the WKU ROTC color guard stand next to Guthrie Bell Tower during a Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony on Thursday morning. Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.

Katherine Wade

Matt Litsey has always been a history buff. But when the Owensboro sophomore began to consider what he wanted to do with his life, he decided that studying wasn’t enough – at least for a little while.

“I didn’t like the idea of sitting at a desk and learning about history while other guys just like me were out there making it,” he said.

Litsey joined the U.S. Marine Corps and worked on the security force for the White House Communications Agency. Now he is a broadcast major and president of the Student Veterans Alliance at WKU.

SVA was founded in June by Arthur Petersen, a graduate student from Mountain Brook, Ala., and a U.S. Navy veteran. He said the main purpose of the organization is to provide a support group for military veterans and their families.

“A lot of veterans have needs or issues, and we want to be there for them,” Petersen said.

Litsey said another goal of the SVA is to integrate veterans into WKU’s student population.

Danielle Adams, a sophomore from Interlaken, N.Y., was an army sergeant for seven years, throughout which time she was stationed in Georgia, England, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her mother was in the U.S. Air Force, and her grandfather was in the U.S. Navy, so Adams said that when she was about to graduate high school, the military was a familiar place to look for options.

“I didn’t know whether I wanted to spend $40,000 on an education when I didn’t know where I was going yet,” she said. “Joining the military gave me the opportunity to see the world, figure out what I wanted to do and serve my country at the same time.”

Adams learned about the SVA after seeing signs around campus, and now she serves as vice-president.

She said the SVA is a good opportunity for student veterans to share their experiences with people who will understand, but she’s still eager to get involved in other campus activities.

“Being in the military, you are used to going constantly, 24 hours a day,” she said. “So getting involved gives you more opportunities to do fun activities.”

Adams said she joined a sorority because there are a lot of similarities between Greek life and military life, especially in the sense of the camaraderie they bring. She said it made the transition from military to college easier.

Litsey said it felt weird to him to have classes with 18-year-olds again. He was also surprised by the variety of people on campus.

“My unit was very homogenous,” he said. “So coming here and being exposed to different people and ideas has been good.”

Even though Litsey and Adams consider their shift into college life to have been fairly smooth, they’ve also realized some differences between their experience and other college students.

Adams said for a lot of people she has classes with, this is their first time away from their homes, while she has already been out in the real world. She said this understanding makes her take some things at college more seriously.

“I have a different appreciation of the opportunities that I have when I come here,” she said.

SVA is open to all WKU students, whether they are military veterans, family of veterans or simply interested in supporting or learning more about the military.

“There is a lack of understanding among people about what it takes to be a free country,” Adams said. “We want to reach as many people as possible and help them start paying attention.”