The military runs throughout my family’s history. Most of my five uncles have served in some capacity, and my husband is a veteran, having served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. So, I’m not unfamiliar with the struggles that veterans can face when returning home.
But my current interest comes from my interactions with a particular student in one of my developmental writing labs. On the first day I could tell Kenny was unlike many of the students I see in my lab. He has agreed to let me share his story.
Kenny comes into my lab early most days. He methodically places his backpack on the floor next to him and pulls out his English 090-Developmental Writing Lab folder. Inside, he has neatly organized his assignments. He completes the required paperwork and sits stiffly against the back of the chair, waiting for his next task.
His peers’ presence is relaxed. Kenny seems on the ready. Their posture is slouched, even sometimes laying their heads and bodies on the table. Kenny’s posture is nearly perfect, hands placed in his lap. Through his work and our discussions, I’ll learn that Kenny is not the “traditional” developmental writing student, or at least not what we’ve considered traditional up to this point.
At the age of 27, he’s a twice-deployed Marine Corps veteran looking for a second chance at an education through his Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits. As a “gunner”, Kenny would spend many hours at a time manning his weapon in the turret of his vehicle. Serving as the eyes and ears of the convoy, gunners ride—stand—slightly extending out of the top of extremely confined vehicles scanning the routes for potential dangers, including IEDs (improvised explosive devices). This requires them to constantly turn themselves and their equipment. Because trips can range from hours to days with little rest and few breaks, the ride is physically grueling. Spaces are tight; the gunner’s body is continuously jostled and jarred against the heavy-metaled vehicle; the dust and sand can be suffocatingly harsh; and access to water is sometimes scarce.
Kenny carries with him reminders of these trips. He has a documented disability rating of 60%, affecting several areas of his body. Based on the comparison of pre- and post-deployment testing, Kenny has diminished hearing and vision. He’s been prescribed glasses, which he only wears in classes that require him to takes notes—I’ve never seen them—and hearing aids which he says, “I don’t wear them because then people want to ask about them. I wear them in large lecture classes, like my Criminal Justice class. It’s in a big, open lecture room, and I can’t really hear.” He has a deformity of his writing hand and TBI, traumatic brain injury, the results of an IED explosion. His back, knees and ankles are forever damaged. And, he has spent many months working through his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
This is not to say that these experiences have only disabled him in the classroom. While many of the results of his experience as a deployed soldier have changed the way he must approach his studies, they’ve also provided him with some skills that he uses to successfully complete his coursework. He’s extremely motivated, hardworking, committed, systematic and tenacious. Awareness of strengths like these, the lasting benefits of military training, may help instructors adapt classroom strategies to better teach these students about the writing process.
What’s most important about Kenny is that he shares many of the same experiences of other returning veteran students. As instructors, understanding how they may affect a student’s outlook and abilities in the classroom, and knowing what services we and our institutions offer, can help us lead these men and women to long-term academic success.
In the next post, I’ll start to break down the individual effects of these experiences and think about how they may affect students in the writing classroom. I hope you’ll join me in this discussion and exploration and share your experiences and thoughts on this very important topic facing writing instructors across the country.