Over the past several years, Armstrong State University has increasingly focused on its “military-affiliated” student population – that is, active-duty, reserve and National Guard service-members, retirees, veterans and their families.
Programs and initiatives aimed at these students have bolstered the school’s reputation as a military-friendly institution. ASU has even received the “Military Friendly School” designation from GI Jobs for five years running.
One of Armstrong’s latest initiatives, the Green Zone program, continues that trend by offering faculty and staff members an inside glimpse of military life.
According to the school’s website, the overarching goal of the program is to “facilitate the successful transition of veterans … from the structured life of the military to a college campus.” To this end, the three-phase program affords participants the chance to interact with soldiers in their home environs and hear from military-affiliated students about the challenges they face in pursuing higher education.
Now in its second year, the program’s creators have been pleasantly surprised by the interest from faculty and staff.
“When we launched the first iteration last year, I said we’d call 15 people a success,” said Pete Hoffman, a retired Army officer and director of Armstrong’s Liberty Center. “We ended up having to cap it at 40.”
Last Friday, approximately 20 Armstrong professors and staff members gathered in a classroom at the school’s Savannah campus for phase 1 of the three-phase program. Military and Veteran Programs Coordinator Phil Gore, also an Army veteran, gave an overview of the initiative.
One of the first things Gore explained was the origin of the program’s name.
“Anyone who’s ever served in the military knows that ‘green zone’ is just safe – it doesn’t matter where it is,” he said.
Faculty and staff who have completed the training place Green Zone logos on their office doors, signifying a “military friendly area of operation.”
Friday’s presentation included video clips of veterans explaining their transitions from military service to student life. Many expressed feelings of alienation from classmates and a struggle to adapt to the looser structure of school; one student spoke about the discomfort he felt when asked about his combat experiences.
“One of the most common things I hear vets asked is, ‘How many people did you kill over there?’” Gore commented. “That’s probably not the best thing to ask someone.”
Gore said that although veterans generally want to talk to fellow veterans when it comes to certain topics, they are probably more likely to talk to non-veterans regarding “how they’re feeling about something they experienced or something that’s going on in the classroom.”
“Why? Because we’re bulletproof,” he explained. “That’s what we know each other as. We don’t want to be seen as weak.”
Gore said that he does not expect Green Zone participants to become military experts, but rather to have a more informed understanding of the issues military-affiliated students may face.
“I kind of consider this as a first-responder … a sympathetic ear, and we’re asking that you all help them find the appropriate resource to help them solve their problem,” he said.
Dr. Betsy Hoit-Thetford has been teaching English at Armstrong off-and-on since 1991, and currently works at the Liberty Center in Hinesville. As a former military spouse, she knows first-hand the challenges faced not just by military members, but their husbands, wives and children – something she said her fellow faculty members may not be aware of.
“I don’t think they’re aware of the emotional toll that deployments and things like that take,” she said, noting that deployments are not only hard on the service-members, but on their families as well.
“From my perspective as a former military spouse, the one who’s left behind, that person does not get the attention because we think, ‘Oh, that person’s still here, they still have access to all the services, that person’s going to be fine,’” she continued. “The emotional burden of the family left behind is much greater than people realize.”
Hoit-Thetford said that she appreciates Armstrong’s efforts to raise awareness of the special considerations military-affiliated students may need.
“People who go through (the Green Zone) program are aware for maybe the first time ever that there’s more than meets the eye when they’re dealing with someone who’s been in the military,” she said. “And, they need to consider those special circumstances every bit as much as we consider cultural circumstances, gender circumstances, regional circumstances – every other consideration that we give, we should add military to that.”
Phase 2 of the Green Zone program will take participants on a field trip of Hunter Army Airfield, and Phase 3 will include a three-hour block of instruction from various veteran and military-affiliated groups. Stay tuned to the Courier for in-depth coverage of each phase.