In my pre-retirement years, I worked at a college in southern California near the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Many returning servicemen enrolled in classes. They went from the warzone of Afghanistan to a privileged setting of lattes and frisbees. The culture shock was profound.
These young men, and a few women, had no place to gather, and they clearly needed each other. I turned my office suite into a Veterans Center and took a small office. Soon the place was bustling.
What I didn't expect was how transformative this experience would be for me.
Firsthand I saw the impact of war. Physical, mental, and emotional. I heard and saw things that broke my heart, and slowly these brave young people became family. I've many stories, but there is one I'd like to share with you today.
An Army Ranger veteran came to me. He looked like a Hollywood movie star, but below his exterior, he carried experiences few could imagine. He explained that he had been promised an education, but at the college he was considered a non-resident. This meant his classes would cost a fortune. He said, "I don't know what to do. This is my only home. I have no other. Why must I pay out-of-state tuition when non-citizens are considered residents?"
He was not being political. He simply stated facts. I met with college officials and did what I could, but ultimately, this young man returned to Special Forces. He explained, "It's something I do well, and I can't make it here. I don't have the funds I need to take classes."
This encounter disturbed me greatly. No matter which country we call home, if we expect our young people to defend our country, we have an absolute responsibility to help them transition back into civilian life at the end of their tour.
I wrote to many California elected officials and met with a couple of them. Before I retired, I believe the law was changed, and veterans in California are now given residency. I hope I am not mistaken.
The young men below are a few of the veterans who made my office their campus home.
In the United States, we give hotel suites to illegal immigrants. We offer them food. Why aren't we demonstrating that same respect to our veterans?