April 11, 2012 - Adjusting to civilian life can be extremely difficult for some U.S. military personnel, especially those returning from war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Oxford High School graduates Jerred Pender (left) and Kate Logan worked hard to establish a Veteran Resource Room at the Auburn Hills campus of Oakland Community College. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
Fortunately, there are veterans who care like Kate Logan and Jerred Pender, who helped found a chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA) at Oakland Community College (OCC).
About three months ago, SVA opened a Veteran Resource Room on the OCC Auburn Hills campus (2900 Featherstone Rd.) in Room G103 of the Student Center (G Building).
"It's a large conference room stocked full of information and resources from all the veterans service organizations in Oakland County and beyond," said Logan, a 2000 Oxford High School graduate, who spent six years in the U.S. Army, including 18 months in Baghdad, Iraq.
"There's dozens of different veterans' resources available," said Pender, a 2005 OHS graduate, who served in the Army for 4½ years and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division.
"It's just a matter of getting the information out there and helping people understand what they're entitled to, where they can get it and who to talk to."
SVA will host a grand opening event for the Veteran Resource Room on Friday, April 13 from 1-4 p.m in Room G240 of the Student Center. The event is free and open to the public. It will feature retired Maj. Gen. Robert W. Smith, director of the state's Veterans' Services Division, as the guest speaker.
The resource room is open to anyone who needs it. "It's not just for the students of OCC; it's for all veterans in the surrounding area," Logan said. "Anybody at any time can come in and grab the information they need.
"It's pretty much for the community," Pender said.
The information and resources available at the room encompass education, employment and training, medical, disability, counseling, housing, childcare, family issues and much more.
"It's anything to do with veterans and their spouses," Logan said. "It's a very broad spectrum of things that we try to help with."
"It basically makes things easier and more convenient for veterans who don't really have a chance to go all the way to (Oakland County Veterans' Services)," Pender said.
The county's offices are located in Pontiac and Troy.
Besides containing a comprehensive collection of booklets and pamphlets, the room also provides a comfortable place for area veterans to meet and connect.
"There's usually veterans in here, so it's a great way for other veterans to network with each other," Logan said.
The Veteran Resource Room is available for meetings, seminars and workshops.
"We (SVA) hold our monthly meetings in there," Logan said. "We're also looking to do job fairs, resume workshops and host guest speakers. It's a multipurpose room."
SVA is currently looking for a student/veteran to staff the room, aid users and answer questions.
Both Logan and Pender are extremely passionate about helping their fellow veterans get what they need to lead prosperous and healthy civilian lives.
"We absolutely don't want to see what happened in the Vietnam era happen to our generation with the homelessness, suicides and unemployment," Logan said. "We really just want to help our peers and make sure that they succeed."
"I wanted to make it easier for the next wave of veterans coming in," Pender said.
That's why, back in September 2011, Logan and Pender helped found an SVA chapter. She's the president and he's the vice president.
SVA's mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. The group has more than 500 chapters nationwide.
"Right now, there's a huge influx of veterans coming back to school," Logan said. "A lot of colleges and universities have been looking for ways to implement new programs and adapt to that."
Approximately 400 veterans are currently taking classes at OCC's various campuses.
"I think that OCC, by having this (SVA) chapter and by allowing us have this Veteran Resource Room, is going to provide an example of what to do and things that work," Logan said.
Logan and Pender know from personal experience how difficult it can be for veterans to build a new life following their military service.
"I had some difficulties transitioning, getting used to civilian life, finding a place," Logan said. "Going back to school was hard, especially being older. It was kind of like jumping into cold water. I saw other veterans having the same struggles."
Pender said when he returned home it was difficult for him wading through all the "red tape" when it came to acquiring his benefits such as money for college.
"I didn't know the right people to talk to," he said.
Fortunately, both Logan and Pender have made successful transitions back to civilian life.
Logan is on track to graduate from OCC in May with associate's degrees in General Studies and Liberal Arts. She's hoping to get a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or another agency of the federal government.
Pender plans to transfer into Michigan State University's business program and continue working to advance veterans' issues while in Lansing.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.