In honor of this Veterans Day, The Red & Black interviewed two vets pursuing a college degree and transitioning from a military to civilian lifestyle in Athens. Having resources including the Student Veterans Resource Center and the Student Veterans Association, University of Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the nation for student veterans.
These student veterans shared stories about their time in service and their transition into college.
Within a few months, Joseph Millunzi went from handling explosives on aircrafts to flipping omelets at the Niche.
A United States Marine Corps veteran, Millunzi joined the Marine Corps in December 2007. A native of Lodi, California, Millunzi was the first person in his family to join the military, but it is something he knew he wanted to do.
“I always wanted to serve. That was something I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” Millunzi said. “My father told me I had a servant’s heart.”
Millunzi served as an aviation ordnanceman, putting bombs and gun systems on to aircrafts to carry closer to troops on the ground. Millunzi was deployed to Japan and Afghanistan and came back to the U.S. to serve in Arizona and North Carolina. Although he planned on serving the full 20-year term, Millunzi had to retire for his heart condition in August 2017.
Aside from being the first to join the military, he was also the first person in his family to attend college. While Millunzi took classes during his time in the Marine Corps, he realized to utilize the skills he learned in service and support his family, he had to pursue a higher education.
“I always knew I wanted to get an education because no one in my family has ever done that before,” Millunzi said. “Where you’re at is you go to work or you go to war, and in 2007, that’s exactly where I was at, so I knew education was everything.”
He only had 45 days to figure out where to go after his last day of service, so he applied to several schools along the east coast and chose the University of Georgia after meeting a friend from the area while he was in the Marine Corps. In fall of 2017, Millunzi enrolled at the University of Georgia as a business management major.
For Millunzi, while the transition from military to college was not a smooth one, he found a support system on campus with his coworkers and resources for veterans to aid his transition back into civilian life.
“Jumping into these classes were so fast paced, so that was kind of rough, but we have resources on this campus that are immense. They’re there to help you succeed, and they really care,” Millunzi said. “I would say the hardships are different in every aspect, but there’s nothing that we don’t look forward to solving or getting forward passing — nothing to dwell on.”
His first job was at the Niche, where some of his coworkers also had military backgrounds, which gave him the chance to settle into college life with a job. Millunzi also found support through the SVRC, and from there, he connected with the SVA. After just a year in the association, Millunzi was elected as the SVA president, which is an organization that connects student veterans to share their experiences and offer advice to newer veterans on campus.
Millunzi’s wife and children are also instrumental in motivating him through school and work. His wife, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, can relate to her husband as they had gone through similar experiences.
“To see the public and the civilian sector and veterans from prior wars come around and put their arms around those veterans that are coming home, those in our community,” Millunzi said. “It just shows that caring and that love that they have for this country and for those who have gone on to fight.”
From the opposite side of the country, there is fellow veteran Stephanie Lawsure. Having grown up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a town of less than 10,000 people, Lawsure was a shy girl who worked at the local diner. While in high school, she met a Marine Corps recruiter and in 2009 after graduating high school, Lawsure decided to join the Marine Corps.
“I worked at a diner, and I remember I wanted everything done the right way. That was how my recruiter got me. He said, ‘You like structure, and the Marine Corps is structure — the military is structure,” Lawsure said. “I wanted to push myself. I wanted that structure, that routine.”
Lawsure began training for the military by attending regular workouts at the recruitment station and training around town.
“There are a lot of older veterans, a lot of Vietnam veterans, and they all knew what I was doing, and they were all very supportive,” Lawsure said. “It was almost like I had the whole town behind me. Once people started supporting me, it gave me the actual push to not be afraid to actually do it.”
Throughout the five years she served, Lawsure began her first two years in Monterey, California, learning Korean. She became a Korean cryptologic linguist, translating and identifying foreign communication. Lawsure later moved to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where she was a rifle instructor and worked with new marines.
Although she planned to re-enlist in the military, in July 2014 Lawsure found out she was pregnant with her daughter and left the military. She moved from Boston to Georgia in September 2015, and decided to enroll at the University of Georgia as a business administration and management major.
Even though the transition from military to civilian life was difficult at first, Lawsure eventually found the people and resources to connect with on campus to help with the transition.
“It was really hard to transition just because I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t have that camaraderie anymore. Those people weren’t right there, and I struggled for a while,” Lawsure said. “As soon as I started making friends, my life changed. I don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t at UGA.”
At UGA, Lawsure connected with the SVA, and they mentored her through her academic and personal life.
“There have been times where I think, ‘Do I really need this degree? Should I go try and find a job?’ because I want to spend more time with my daughter,” Lawsure said. “It’s definitely not easy, and a lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ and I think the military trained me to work under pressure.”
For Lawsure, Veterans Day is also important to understand the hardships they go through, both during and after their time in the military.
“A lot of people say thank a veteran on Veterans Day, but I tell this to people all the time: It’s not just about that. We go through a lot transitioning from where we are in life or pivoting. Don’t just thank them; ask them how they’re doing because it’s so much more than thanks, and that’s the most important thing,” Lawsure said. “Because when people do that with me, somebody cares, and they want to know. Just check in with them, make sure everything’s going OK because it’s hard.”
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