From negotiating with the Taliban to managing classes: Student veteran studies under possibility of deployment

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(Hannah Miller / Daily Titan)

U.S. Army civil affairs Sgt. James Grigsby walked into a sit-down with leaders of a Taliban cell in Zhari, a district in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, under one condition: No weapons.

Even so, Grigsby said his lieutenant wouldn’t let him walk into that meeting without a concealed service pistol on his hip.

“What’s the best way to put it? We were professional,” Grigsby said. “These guys did not like us.”

The meeting was part of a five-month U.S. Military campaign to gain control of a small town in Zhari, an area Grigsby and other troops called the home of the Taliban. Grigsby said that effort effectively ostracized the local cell and subsequently “emancipated” the village during his 2012-13 tour.

“It feels weird to sit down and do this without a cigarette,” he said, slouching into a chair for a conversation with the Daily Titan. “Part of the job is (I) liaise between our military and our government and whatever country we’re assigned in — their military, their government, their civilian populace. We do this kind of stuff with anybody as high up as diplomats of foreign nations to anybody as low as a local bread store owner in a village.”

Such interactions, for Grigsby, usually happen over a smoke.

“Just to kind of set everything at ease – weapons down, helmets down,” Grigsby said.

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(Bailey Carpenter / Daily Titan)

Now balancing his reservist status with the pursuit of a degree in public relations at Cal State Fullerton, Grigsby stood in the Pollak Library, accompanied by his 12-year-old service dog Chico, to inform passing students about fellow Titans who serve and his work at the campus’ Veterans Resource Center.

“We really value that desk. It’s good to get your education,” Grigsby said. “(Other students are) 18 years old and they’re different. They value completely different things than you do. That’s stressful and aggravating as hell. Don’t get me wrong, I value that desk. I’m not going to be upset because I have three pages of paper due in two days. I’m just going to do it.”

For Grigsby and other serving college students, uncertainty looms on the horizon. Grigsby said he’s well aware of the possibility that he could be deployed during the semester and that he’s already scheduled to head out to his next assignment in February.

“The time frame is malleable. You can never really be certain when anything’s going to come down the pipeline, when they’re gonna cut orders for you to take off,” Grigsby said. “There are some missions that last a month. Then there are some things like deployment to Afghanistan where that lasts a year. All of that comes down to whatever current events are happening, and the needs of the army.”

Grigsby said that this can create complications with professors.

“With as many vets as we have, we’ve had a few horror stories where a professor goes, ‘You’re going to have to drop,’ or ‘Sorry, I can’t accommodate. You’re going to miss too much,’” Grigsby said. “The (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) gives us education benefits. We get paid as long as we’re in class. If we fail, that’s one thing, but if we’re not in it whatsoever we owe the money back to them.”

However, for the most part, Grigsby said CSUF professors have been more than willing to cooperate with his schedule.

“Most of the time I’ve been in Cal State Fullerton, I’ve started at least a week late every semester,” Grigsby said.  “A lot of professors are accommodating, they just say ‘Do what you’ve got to do. When you get back, just be ready to kick ass and catch up.’”

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