Veteran’s club helps when experience shapes the soldier


DVC student Stephanie Browning during her tour in Iraq. (Courtesy Stephanie Browning)

Benjamin Lower went from leading soldiers into the heat of combat to the classrooms of DVC.

It was not an easy transition.

“There is somewhat of an alienation between veterans and a difficulty in identifying with most other students,” the former U.S. Army sergeant says. “College is a very different experience for us.”

He recalls, in a soft-spoken tone, an ambush by the Mahdi militia in which the sole of his boot was shot off April 1, 2006.

Now, as he prepares for a major in international affairs, he finds himself often discussing and studying the very thing he lived. “My experience in Iraq has really shaped my educational goals,” Lower says.

He steers clear of personal details when discussing the Iraq war in class, instead focusing on the larger issue and broader policies.

“I appreciate an opposing viewpoint,” he says. “It’s much better then someone who is indifferent, because it doesn’t affect their life.”

Stephanie Browning echoes Lower’s comments about alienation, adding she is often the only veteran in a class filled with mostly younger students.

Few would suspect she is a veteran of the U.S. Army, who was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in Iraq when an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) hit her vehicle.

“Most everyone I’ve met who isn’t in the military has a skewed vision of the American soldier,” she says. “How can they help it, with movies like ‘GI Joe’ and ‘Avatar’ making us out to be of below-average intelligence and above-average aggressors.”

Browning says most veterans are simply in a different place in their lives.

“Our goal generally isn’t to figure out who we are anymore,” she says. “It’s to get an education and move on.”

Having just finished her last semester at DVC, Browning has been accepted to UC Berkeley for the fall of 2010.

Both she and Lower say the DVC Veterans Club helped to ease their adjustment to student life and has given them a sense of belonging. Lower will be president of the club next year.

Dennis Franco, a counselor for veterans and adviser to the club is often the first person many veterans encounter when they begin the enrollment process.

Dennis believes that by connecting veterans with other veterans and bringing some familiarity to them as they embark on such a monumental transition can really ease the culture shock that veterans face as they return to academics. 

Contact Chris Clark at [email protected]