Veterans complete their military service possessing self discipline and a host of skills, but trying to figure out careers as civilians can be a problem.
"There are so many veterans doing jobs they absolutely do not enjoy," said Marion Washington, a 20-year Army veteran who found himself in the same situation before he joined the Veterans Upward Bound Program at East Central University.
"After 20 years, you get in the civilian sector and you don't know what you want to do, or even how to apply to the civilian sector," he said. "Veterans bring their skills with them and the Veterans Upward Bound Program helps them sort out their career goals and adjust to the civilian sector."
Washington enlisted in the Army right after high school and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he retired in 2003 as a medical specialist. Three years later, he found out about the VUB Program but was leery about having to take its math and English classes.
"I was afraid I wasn't going to make it," he said.
Today, he is a junior at ECU and excited about his future.
"They (VUB representatives) have me feeling so good about myself and what I can do," he said. "I hope I'm making them proud."
Washington was an intermediate paramedic in the Army, working either as an emergency room technician or an ambulance driver. He completed two tours in Germany, half a tour in Hawaii and served the rest of his career all across the United States.
"When I got out, I didn't want to stay in the medical field, so I tried construction," he said. "Just applying for routine jobs - those were not the jobs I wanted to have.
"I still want to be able to help people, but not directly in the medical field."
He worked in California and Oklahoma and said construction was fun, but it wasn't helping people.
"My kids wanted horses. My aunt has a ranch at Coalgate, so I bought them horses. I tried to be a cowboy, but that didn't work out," he said with a laugh.
He went to the unemployment office in Ada to find out what types of jobs were available and was directed to a Veterans Employment Representative who told him about the veterans programs at ECU.
"The Veterans Upward Bound Program gives you the incentive to pick out a career you can be happy with. They go out of their way," he said. "Lots of vets talk to me, but they're not taking advantage of this program.
"If you're low in math or English, below a high school level, it's designed to get you up," he explained. "They train us to be prepared."
In addition to refreshing veterans' academic skills, the free VUB Program prepares veterans to enter or re-enter technical or vocational schools or two- or four-year colleges anywhere in the United States.
Counselors and instructors provide support and assistance through classes, workshops and individualized instruction. They also help with information about programs of study and careers and with admissions and financial aid applications.
Washington said the VUB staff encouraged him all the way.
"If you listen to what they tell you, you won't be disappointed," he said with a wide grin.
While it was very hard for him to make the decision to go through the program, Washington said, "the VUB has taken me so far. It gave me the incentive to pick out a career I can be happy with."
He completed his internship in the VUB office helping other veterans in the program and decided to enroll full time at ECU in January 2007.
While he had considerable medical training and much life experience, he said going to classes with 17- and 18-year-olds scared him at first. "I don't want to see myself failing in anything," he said.
The discipline he gained in the military helped him form a good study routine, and he spends much of his time in a computer lab just for veterans.
He is majoring in human resources and plans to earn a master's degree and become either a vocational rehabilitation counselor or a human resources counselor.
"I don't want to stop," Washington said. "The VUB has given me the incentive to say, 'I can do this!'"
"I'm shooting for the stars," he added.
The Texas native said he could not have come this far without the VUB counselors and staff who have been like his advisers in class, outside class and even for personal issues.
His three grown children think his going to college is "awesome." His son will be a freshman at the University of Texas this fall. His oldest daughter is a student at Central Texas Community College and his other daughter works in banking.
"I’m one of those who don't want their children to do what I do," he said. "I want them to be better."
The VUB also offers preparation in science, reading, literature, computers and foreign language as well as goal setting, study skills and time management. Participants must live in either Carter, Comanche, Murray, Pontotoc or Stephens Counties. Veterans with 180 days' continuous active duty service or those who have a service-connected disability and a discharge other than dishonorable may participate in the VUB Program.
For information or VUB applications, contact the VUB office at East Central University in Ada at 580-559-5459 or at Cameron University in Lawton at 580-357-5848. VUB counselors also can travel to locations in the five counties to meet with veterans about the program.
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