Options for veterans in college expanding
There is a unique relationship between the military and higher education in the United States.
Some students may be surprised to learn that Portland State University was originally established to cater toward veterans and military personnel. Portland, like many cities across the U.S., was virtually flooded by American GIs returning from the Pacific Theatre, so much so as to warrant the founding of a secondary education institution with the express purpose of integrating these veterans into the skilled workforce. The school was initially named the Vanport Extension Center.
Things have certainly changed. The premier veteran college of the Northwest has veritably become Oregon’s answer to Berkeley. Regardless, the veteran presence on campus remains substantial. And, as the numbers reveal, that presence is growing.
The number of veterans on campus is at a record high as of 2011, with the promise of more to come as the wars in the Middle East gradually reach their conclusion. At their disposal is a number of educational benefits awarded by virtue of their service. Among them, probably the most important is the Montgomery GI Bill.
The Montgomery GI Bill has to be one of the most ingenious pieces of legislation in American history. In its most recent incarnation (updated in August 2009), the bill essentially provides for any serviceman or woman a full ride scholarship to any public university in their state following the end of active duty service commitments. Also included are a number of various stipends for housing, textbooks, etc.
The benefits of this program are extensive. Probably the most obvious is the immediate incentive for prospective military enlistees. This is an important recruitment tool for the Armed Forces.
Providing veterans with higher education also allows for an easier transition from military service into the labor force. In this way, the GI Bill creates jobs and businesses and reduces homelessness and crime. This can also serve as a neat passage of economic upward mobility for those who would be otherwise unable to attend college due to financial restrictions. This contributes greatly to the overall vitality of the American economy.
Perhaps on a more philosophical level, this also provides for an interesting relationship between the military and the university system. Strange bedfellows, to say the least.
In the military, time wasted equals opportunities lost. In combat, the advantage belongs to he who acts quickest and most decisively; a good plan implemented now is better than a perfect plan later. There is no time for debate.
This stands in stark contrast to the fundamental characteristics of a liberal education. Whereas the military prizes initiative, college prizes contemplation. Whereas the military idealizes simplicity in execution, college idealizes complexity in reasoning. Cause and effect, versus dynamic relationships. Fact-finding, versus abstract posturing.
This too, however, is changing. The model of the “scholar-soldier” is growing increasingly popular in the military leadership hierarchy. General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of coalition forces in the first Gulf War, was said to have taken some ninety pages of notes during a lecture on the Middle East, according to Dr. Peter Bechtold, former director of PSU’s Middle East Studies Center.
General James Mattis, currently the commander of U.S. Central Command (which includes both Iraq and Afghanistan), is said to bring a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on every deployment and can readily quote both Homer and Sun Tzu. Of course, General Petraeus, renowned for his methodical approach to counter-insurgency, is probably more responsible for success in Iraq than any other individual in that theatre.
The military is an adaptive force. And, as the asymmetrical wars of Iraq and Afghanistan have demanded, new lines of thought are coming into their own.
PSU is currently home to a veterans service and advocacy group, the Students Veterans Association, located in the Smith Memorial Student Union. The association meets on the first Wednesday of every month from 5 to 6 p.m. More information can be found at their website, www.VikingVets.org.