On a new mission
Nationally recognized as a great fit for veterans, Ohio State works hard to ease transitions and create opportunities. The rewards of those efforts are seen every day in the many contributions those who’ve served in the military make to campus life.
Combat to campus: Seven years ago, Colin Busse found himself at a remote outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan — a place where no coalition force had set foot before the arrival of his unit from the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. He was deep in enemy territory.
“The best way to describe it is like taking a stick and poking it directly into a hornet’s nest,” Busse said. “Our base was getting rocketed and mortared on a daily basis. We were getting ambushed on patrols. We were stirring up a hornet’s nest.”
Just two years earlier, the only enemy that concerned Busse was the defense of an opposing football team. As the quarterback for northeast Ohio’s Solon High School, he was a popular kid with aspirations to attend West Point and become an Army officer.
Busse had long had an interest in the military. His dad served in Vietnam and brought back hundreds of pictures. The young Busse would click through the slides with wonder. And while he was fascinated, he didn’t feel he was destined to follow that path. But after 9/11, he was all in.
“That really gave me a different perspective,” said Busse, who was a high school freshman at the time of the attacks. “It really inspired me to give back and do something for the country.”
Busse earned an ROTC scholarship to the University of Dayton and enrolled in 2005. But he quickly determined that wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
“I wasn’t getting my feet dirty,” he said. “I felt like I was playing Army. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.”
With a semester behind him, Busse enlisted in the Army and shipped off to basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he learned to be a reconnaissance paratrooper. In what seemed like no time, the 20-year-old Busse was on the ground in Afghanistan. He lost a close friend in combat, and in spring 2008, just three days before he was to ship out, Busse had his own brush with death.
“My vehicle was struck by a command-detonated roadside bomb,” he said. “I was the gunner. I was exposed, and everyone else was inside. The blast basically went off in my face.”
The sound and force of the explosion damaged Busse’s eardrums, and blood flowed from his ears. He was evacuated immediately. He recovered and went on to serve another tour in Afghanistan, but issues with his hearing linger.
Busse, who earned a Purple Heart for his bravery, left the Army in 2010, came home and set his sights on school. This time, he chose Ohio State.
“I always saw myself as a Buckeye,” said Busse, who started classes in January 2011. But here, far from the battlefield, he faced different challenges: He was no longer among peers. His fellow soldiers had scattered, and his friends from Solon had long since graduated. He was on his own for the first time.
“I didn’t really know anybody,” he said. “I didn’t know where to stay. I didn’t know anything.”
Lucky for Busse, he was at Ohio State, which U.S. News & World Report ranked fifth nationally on its 2014 list of “Best Colleges for Veterans” and G.I Jobs magazine has named a “Top Military Friendly School” for six years running.
Busse’s story is like those of other veterans who enroll at Ohio State each year. Col. Michael Carrell, assistant provost and director of the university’s Office of Military and Veterans Services, said that while all students make a big adjustment to college, veterans also are making the transition from military life to civilian life.
“It’s a transition from a culture that’s entirely based on the mission and the team — where your personal needs are subservient to nonexistent at times — to a culture where it’s all about you and taking care of yourself. That’s hard,” Carrell said. “You can’t just turn off what you’ve been doing for four to 30 years.”
That’s where Carrell and his staff step in. Their office exists to build trust with student-veterans and help them succeed academically. The first step is making sure students’ tuition, housing and other benefits are in order.
“If you don’t get that part right,” he said, “it doesn’t matter what else you do. If they’re worried about that, they’re not going to concentrate on being a student and succeeding.”
That’s why certifying and processing benefits is the primary function of Carrell’s office. This year, some 2,300 Ohio State students are receiving benefits from about 40 Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs programs.
“The average student we have is someone who enlisted out of high school, served four to eight years and is using the GI Bill to get their undergrad degree,” Carrell said.
Other benefit recipients include ROTC program participants, National Guard and Reserve members, and veterans’ dependents.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows veterans to transfer their benefits to spouses or children, and 350 are now taking advantage of that at Ohio State. Carrell said that’s one reason this GI Bill has the highest usage rate — 70 percent nationwide — of any ever offered.
The bill, which took effect in fall 2009, fueled a huge boost in students receiving military benefits at Ohio State — from 880 in 2008 to nearly three times that number today. Carrell came on board in 2011 to help the university engage veterans more effectively.
Beyond handling benefits, the Office of Military and Veterans Services is a one-stop shop for what Carrell calls the “Buckeye military family,” helping folks make connections on campus through student groups, such as Vets 4 Vets, and with potential employers. That kind of networking helped Busse find a mentor in Jim Miller of the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Knowledge Transfer.
“He really was the kick starter of everything,” Busse said, explaining that Miller provided him with guidance and introductions to business leaders interested in hiring vets. As Busse neared completion of his bachelor’s degree in sport and leisure studies in 2013, Miller connected him with Tammy Krings, CEO of a New Albany, Ohio, travel management company.
“She hired me on the spot. I started off in a part-time position and, when I graduated, walked right into a full-time job,” said Busse, now 28 and a business relationship manager for the firm. “I couldn’t have asked for a better company to work for because of how supportive they are about my background and the things I’ve done.”
Now he’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life: marriage to his fiancée, Andrea DeRoia, in April.
Busse’s move from combat to campus to career epitomizes the kind of experience Carrell hopes all military students enjoy at Ohio State. And while his office is there to help student-veterans however it can, the goal is to see them succeed on their own.
“It’s all part of transition,” he said.
An army of advocates: As the son of a career military man, Jim Miller grew up around the world, moving 28 times before he turned 18. One place, however, stood out above all the others.
As the son of a career military man, Jim Miller grew up around the world, moving 28 times before he turned 18. One place, however, stood out above all the others.
“Ohio State really was home,” said Miller, whose father, Maj. Lawrence Miller, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university while serving in the Air Force.
At the time — the turbulent 1960s — life for a military family on a college campus was somewhat of a covert operation, Miller said. Anti-military sentiment ran high, and protests were common as the United States engaged in an unpopular war in Vietnam. For the younger Miller and his siblings, that translated to nearly round-the-clock confinement to their home and back yard on Lane Avenue.
A lot has changed. Today, a military uniform commands respect and gratitude from a generation of students who were children when terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
As an alumnus and longtime employee of the university, Miller has had a front row seat to the transformation of attitudes. And he’s played a major role, too. When his father passed away in 2011, Miller set out to honor his memory by helping student-veterans excel and contribute to the Ohio State community.
“When you arrive as a veteran at Ohio State, you aren’t a traditional student,” he said. “I’d describe you as a zebra among a bunch of horses.”
Miller’s mission is to help veterans and active members of the military shed those zebra stripes and feel at home contributing their knowledge and leadership skills.
“Ohio State is about the student experience,” he said. “It’s about getting engaged and involved.”
Miller worked with Col. Michael Carrell, who directs the Office of Military and Veterans Services, to establish the Student-Veteran Community Advocate Program in his father’s honor. It’s a donor-funded scholarship initiative that assigns student-veterans to various campus offices to serve as ambassadors for the Buckeye military family. Each advocate receives $2,000 to offset housing and other expenses and $1,000 to develop programming with the assigned office. The program has grown from 10 students in 2013, its inaugural year, to 22 this year thanks to many families that have assisted in honor of their loved ones.
“We need to tap into their expertise,” Carrell said of the advocates. “They bring a lot of value through their leadership and experiences.”
Army veteran Susan Knapik is one of this year’s advocates. She’s assigned to the Ohio Union and Student Activities, where she’s working on developing a service organization involving veterans.
“It’s about bringing back the idea of service in our lives,” Knapik said. “When you go back to being a civilian after being so used to service of some kind, it’s like, ‘Now, what do I do?’”
For Knapik, service and studies are a family affair. Her husband, Greg Freisinger, is pursuing a doctorate in biomechanical engineering at Ohio State as the school’s first-ever Pat Tillman Military Scholar.
For her project, Knapik is attempting to create a Columbus group patterned after Team Rubicon, an international organization that partners veterans and first responders to deploy wherever disaster strikes. She hopes to design a sustainable organization at Ohio State that melds the skills of veterans and traditional students to help local people in need.
“I think there’s a lot the two groups can learn from each other and teach each other,” said Knapik, who’s on course to earn a bachelor’s degree in design in May. It will be her second Ohio State degree. Before joining the Army, the North Ridgeville native attended school on an ROTC scholarship and majored in English.
Amanda Hostetter, an Ohio State nursing student and flight medic in the Air Force Reserves, is an advocate with Student Life Disability Services. Her efforts are centered on eliminating the negative stigma many veterans attach to the word “disability.”
Hostetter said military folks are prone to “rub some dirt on it and get over it” whenever they feel helpless. Her goal is to make student-veterans feel comfortable asking for help. She’s conducting research to see if using terms other than “disability” might benefit veterans struggling with any number of issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and test anxiety.
“These are the things I don’t think all vets realize they can have assistance with,” said Hostetter, who was a substance-abuse counselor in the Air Force.
This year, the advocate program expanded to include Ohio State campuses in Mansfield, Marion and Newark, and Miller envisions the program someday growing to involve community organizations.
Veterans House: From the outside, the white house at 237 E. 17th Ave. could easily be mistaken for a fraternity house. Inside, it’s a different story.
The Ohio State Veterans House opened in 2010 to give students transitioning from soldiers to students a place to call home. The house is the brainchild of Susan Hanson, academic program coordinator for literacy studies at Ohio State, and its goal is to help veterans have an easier time adjusting to civilian life.
The home has more domestic appeal than any frat house, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2011, university administrator Jim Miller discovered the house existed and decided to help spruce it up in honor of his father, Maj. Lawrence Miller, who passed away that year.
“It was structurally sound, but aesthetically in need,” explained Miller, who coordinated a group of friends to help raise money and in-kind donations to turn the house into a home. “We’ve put about $1 million in the house so far.”
With the help of donors such as Lifestyle Communities, Macy’s, area businesses and individuals, the house features new furnishings, floors, TVs and an updated kitchen.
“We feel very privileged,” said Charles Heady, the house’s current resident advisor and a former Army lieutenant. “This is the best place to live if you’re a veteran at Ohio State.”
This school year, the house welcomed its first female resident, Amanda Hostetter. The Air Force Reserve flight medic and Ohio State nursing student said her nine male roommates have been great, save for their unwillingness to keep that new kitchen clean.
“It’s really laid back and easy-going,” said Hostetter, who last year had a two-hour daily commute to and from Ohio State. She said having a room at the Veterans House has drastically reduced the stress of balancing her full-time schedule of nursing classes with her Reserve responsibilities at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.
“I didn’t have to worry about apartment-hunting or anything like that,” Hostetter said. “It was such a smooth move for me.”
Voting abroad: The work of Professor of Law Steven Huefner has made it easier for members of the military to vote while serving abroad.
By Monica DeMeglio
The work of one Ohio State professor has made it easier for some members of the military to cast their ballots while serving abroad.
Moritz College of Law Professor Steven F. Huefner spent two years working as the reporter for a Uniform Law Commission drafting committee writing the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act, which has been enacted by 13 states and the District of Columbia.
The act requires certain accommodations be made for military voters, who often have to navigate complicated and ever-changing state laws governing absentee voting.
For example, the act requires elections officials to send absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before a federal election — and in whatever method the voter chooses, including electronically. For those who spend months underwater in a nuclear submarine, an official form that allows them to write in candidates may be necessary.
Huefner said the committee discovered other obstacles related to shipping ballots back, too.
“If you’re sitting in a tent in Afghanistan and have a little downtime to fill out your ballot, you’re not going to find a notary to authenticate you are who you are,” Huefner explained. “Or a postmark may not always be the best way to indicate when a ballot was cast because it can take two days to get from the front on a Humvee.”
Huefner, a senior fellow in Ohio State’s renowned Election Law @ Moritz program, said he hopes more states adopt the act. Texas, Florida and New York would be his first preferences, given their large military populations.
“The Uniform Law Commission’s work to improve voting opportunities for military voters has already affected federal law and has even facilitated voting for nonmilitary voters,” he said, adding that many states now offer to send ballots electronically to the routine voter, too.