Identities: Veterans incorporate the past with the present

In Features

For six years, Peter Weiman spent his days in a Navy submarine watching over the torpedos.

Robert Huskey / Daily Titan
Robert Huskey / Daily Titan

The Torpedoman was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for four years and completed two Western Pacific tours of duty to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Guam where he would practice loading exercises with the submarine’s missiles just in case he had to fire one someday.

“If we screw up everybody dies,” said Weiman. “It’s having to make those choices and doing your job could result in people dying. So, it’s a different mentality of the repercussions of what you do.”

Today, Weiman, 30, works in the Veterans Student Services (VSS) office at Cal State Fullerton and is president of the Student Veterans Association at CSUF. He is a marketing major and is planning on graduating this spring.

Weiman is a student veteran working through the transition between military and student life.

Joining the Navy right out of high school, Weiman’s life experiences differ from the average student on campus. He said many people on campus classify veterans as non-conventional students because they are usually transfers and, like in Weiman’s case, are typically older.

“I’m 30 … so coming back you’re in a different place in your life than the students you’re with,” Weiman said.

However, VSS coordinator Catherine Ward said there is a common misconception surrounding student veterans.

She said many of the challenges that veterans do face are ones not only specific to veterans, many of them resemble adult re-entry students.

“(What) we hear in the media and other outside sources certainly influence our perception of who the veteran is,” said Ward. “I think that the stereotype right now is that the veteran is a war veteran, a combat veteran, and that because of that they have to be operating under some sort of distress…and that isn’t the case. That’s not always the case.”

Ward said many people believe that in general student veterans struggle once they re-enter school and that they, “somehow have deficits because of their experience in the military.”

Yet, Ward said she believes that for many the military is a positive experience and aids in their time in college.

For Sergio Lopez, 22, his time in the Marine Corps instilled in him a drive and dedication that he said many students his age don’t have.

“(I’ve been) able to translate my work ethic. I have that still, so I’m just trying to convert that into doing homework,” he said. “Like I woke up this morning at 6:30, so that way I could start reviewing for a quiz that I had. And I don’t think an 18-19 year old would do that, wake up early for an 8 o’clock class to study.”

The mechanical engineering major served in the Marines for four years, and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.

Lopez said his time in the Middle East wasn’t as dangerous as some would assume.

“I was an engineering equipment mechanic,” said Lopez. “The situational awareness was higher, but I mean I was a maintenance marine, it’s not as dangerous as people think for my particular job, but for someone else’s job it could have been a different experience.”

Weiman’s time in the military offered a more high pressure experience. In working with explosive torpedos on a small enclosed space filled with people, Weiman said it was about quality assurance.

“That was really hard for me when I was getting out (of the military) was dealing with people (saying) ‘Oh, that’s good enough.’ No it’s not. Some people take it as you’re too by the book, but when you have people’s lives in your hands it’s a little different mentality,” he said. “That was the hardest part, I was tuned to working one way and then having to adjust.”

Lopez and Weiman’s stories are not uncommon in that the student veteran population is a growing one. Weiman said they have about 100 to 120 veteran students who come into their office regularly.

The VSS office, at University Hall Room 230, offers the veterans on campus a place to interact with other veterans.

Ward said the veterans center allows for the commandery that veterans engaged in while in the military to carry on. She said one of her goals with the center is to provide a place for veterans to build a community and not only identify themselves as a veteran, but as a student as well.

“(Veteran students) come from a different culture, but they were also civilians before they were veterans, and sometimes we forget that,” Ward said.

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