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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A personal day for veterans at Western

By Schuyler Shelloner

When you think veteran, you might conjure an image of someone older with gray hair. But look around you. You might be sitting next to a veteran or even sharing a group assignment with one.

According to Ann Beck, Western’s assistant director of Veteran Services, there are 442 students who are either veterans, reservists or the children or spouses of service members at Western. This group of students is diverse. The average age of students who are veterans at Western is 29 years old, and 31 percent identify as people of color.

Sometimes it can be challenging for veterans at Western, Beck said. Many of these students have families to support and full-time jobs. Since the students Beck serves tend to be older, they often have a different perspective than traditional students at Western.
But Western students who are veterans are accustomed to coming together with people from all different backgrounds with all different perspectives, to work together in pursuit of common goals, Beck said.

Sylvan Murray, a 36-year-old marine biology student and 13-year Army veteran, said it can be difficult working with students half his age. But Murray said the greater difficulty is juggling his school obligations with his family responsibilities. Murray has three children, ages 17, 14 and 12.

Anthony Whitesides poses for a photo outside, wearing a black jacket.
Anthony Whitesides, 26, worked as a navy ordinanceman before coming to school at Western. // Photo by Jaden Moon

Murray joined the Army soon after the birth of his first son in 2002. He said there were few jobs that paid enough to support a family in his hometown, Clallam Bay, Washington, and the Army offered stable pay, benefits and the opportunity to attend college later on.
Murray was deployed to Iraq three times during his 13 years of service. During that time, he said he also went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to assist with relief efforts. Murray said he came to study at Western because he loves the atmosphere, the natural beauty of the area and its proximity to the ocean.

“I love Western,” Murray said. “The first thing I thought when I got out of the military was, ‘I’m going back to school.’ My thought was, well, before I joined the military, this what I wanted to do, since I was a little kid. I wanted to be a marine biologist or a paleontologist.”

Student and veteran Anthony Whitesides, 26, said he also enjoys his studies at Western. Whitesides worked with explosives and heavy gunnery as a navy ordnanceman on the John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier based in Bremerton, Washington.

During his five years of service, Whitesides said he chased pirates in Southeast Asia and manned heavy guns whenever Iranian patrol boats approached in the Strait of Hormuz. He traveled to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Bahrain and Dubai and all the while he drank a little more than desalinated water.

Although he is happy to be finished, Whitesides said there were some aspects of his service that he misses.

Sylvan Murray, smiling, wears an orange printed shirt and sits at a computer.
Sylvan Murray, 36, is a 13-year Army veteran studying marine biology. // Photo by Jaden Moon

“I had so many friends,” Whitesides said. “If something pops off, everybody’s getting up. You don’t find that outside of a community like that. You have a dozen-plus people that all got your back, if you forget anything, someone will cover you. You don’t have any money, someone will cover you. [I knew] so many super solid people that I miss a lot.”

As of 2016, Western has offered U.S. Military veterans the option to apply for a complete tuition waiver. According to Beck, other schools in Washington can offer to cover as much as 50 percent of veterans’ tuition and fees, but Western is the only university in the state that offers to cover 100 percent, should someone meet the requirements.

Many student veterans have family obligations, and some have disabilities that can interfere both financially and logistically with attending school. Beck said that is why the Veteran Services office is also fundraising for a scholarship endowment to help student veterans with expenses beyond tuition and fees. She said their office is close to reaching the $25,000 endowment, with only $3,500 left to be raised.

Beck hopes to reach the full amount soon. She said she loves working with students who are veterans and wants to attract as many veterans to Western as possible.

“One of my favorite things about working with veterans is that they have a good sense of humor, and a really good perspective on things,” Beck said. “They’ve been through some really stressful situations prior to getting here, so when they come into an environment where there might be stress they’re able to recall those skills that they used to get through that stress.”

The veterans services office is located in Old Main, room 240.

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