Something just wasn’t right. I knew that I was probably overreacting, but I also knew that my instincts had saved my ass more times than I could count, and the times that I didn’t listen were the times that said ass got kicked. I looked around at the people in the room, and it seemed that they could sense the uncertainty as well. Every now and then I could hear muttering “What’s going on?” “I have a feeling that we should leave…” Then one guy opened the floodgates. “F – this…I am outta here.” People standing around began to look at each other to see who was going to follow, then started to file out. Myself and maybe two people stayed put. One of them was a pretty, olive skinned woman who sat calmly and just took in the scene before her. I thought I detected a slight grin on her face, which strangely cemented the idea that staying in my seat was a good idea. The grinning lady got to her feet, went to the door and calmly said “OK, you guys ready to start class?” Pure genius. The “ship jumpers” sat down with a combination confused/sheepish look on their faces. I expected the professor to scream at the revolters, to ask them how dare they question her timeliness, hell, even a death stare or a book on the desk slam would have been warranted. After all, I was not that long out of the Marine Corps, and the aforementioned were the tamer end of the spectrum from what I was used to. Nope – nothing. The prof simply smiled her sweet smile, sat on the edge of her desk and said “So – who is ready to learn to speak like a native?” Welcome to college – drop your gear and salty attitude at the door.
So in all honesty, by the time I hit college, I was well out of my “salty” stage. It was 2004, and I had been out since 2002. I still liked to think of myself as having some of that oorah still in me. Still made sure my clothes were pressed, still called everyone “sir” or “ma’am” (still do). But now I was 31 years old, was married and had 3 kids. I had matured a lot (in my mind) since I stepped onto those yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina many years ago, so while yes, taking on college was a new challenge, it wasn’t being shot at or taken on 30 mile forced marches either, so how hard could it be? I was intelligent (albeit a crayon eater like most Marines – what…ever), being a lover of history – especially military – and reading, and I had gotten pretty good grades in high school (except math – we won’t even talk about that). My father, both older sisters and one of my younger brothers had attended college, but like many families, tuition costs had kept them from finishing. So, while it was a big motivator, graduating from college was more for my children’s future than about being a “first.”
I remember walking onto the campus for the first time, on my way to see my VA rep about tuition and other details. Like other colleges and universities, there were a pretty good cross section of America. Nevertheless, I felt not just like a fish out of water, but an OLD fish out of water. I had gotten my undergrad degree started while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, taking courses at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, more on-base courses while stationed in Japan, and then some online courses. But while there were the occasional civilian (not including spouses of military members) students, most of the men and women I attended classes with were active duty Marines and sailors, and I am sure soldiers and airmen/women. Whatever the case, most of us shared a common bond that many not in uniform might not understand (that was not a dig at civilians at all – I guarantee you that you could throw me in with a group of current or former law enforcement, medical, sanitation, or your local peaknuckle club and I would be equally lost until someone took my hand, shook their head and said “Come on, noob – I’ll show ya around.”) I noticed some folks who looked like they might be veterans, but this was only a few years after 9/11, and the whole “big watch/bigger beard” craze had not caught on yet. There were a few high and tight haircuts, and I spotted the occasional military sticker here and there, but this was obviously not a military dominant college.
Not that that is what I was looking or even hoping for. I had done my time, and I am proud of it, but that does not mean that I have to be surrounded by jarheads to be happy. Also wasn’t a “I am a vet – love/pity me and/or excuse my rude behavior” kind of guy, either. I was no better and no worse than the people walking around campus – I was, just like them – a student, there to learn. I was grateful to be there, and I was going to make the most of it. And I did just that. Along the way, I studied alongside future professional athletes (one of whom proved to be everything negative that detractors say pro players are), future movers and shakers in government and the private sector, and even sat in class next what could have become the next Seung-Hui Cho (if you are scratching your head, Google it up and we will get into in the next article. I had professors who inspired me and some who absolutely annoyed me. But throughout it all, I realized that though I was no better, no worse. I was different, and I didn’t fit in – and that was perfectly OK with me. Till next time, homies. I have some keg stands to work on.
(By the way, for a much better – written and entertaining – GI goes to college story, read Jack Murphy’s “A Ranger Goes to College – Part 1” here.)
Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures.