Army veteran makes adjustments to life as a college freshman
AT A GLANCE
1,040 veteran students at OU
325 are not using GI Bill benefits
715 are using GI Bill benefits
Source: Veteran Student Services
Ricardo Patino, The Oklahoma Daily
When Tim Miller walked into his first class in August, he began an adjustment not only into life as a full-time student, but also as a civilian, husband and father.
The university college freshman got out of the Army just days after beginning classes, ending a five-year career that included two trips to Afghanistan. His most recent deployment, to Kandahar in south Afghanistan, ended in March.
While his first assignment brought him to Kabul, where he said his platoon felt pretty safe, Kandahar offered a much different atmosphere.
“We were basically in the birthplace of the Taliban,” Miller said. “We were getting shot up twice a day for two months with everything from small arms to rockets and small grenade launchers.”
Miller ran headquarters and handled intelligence, analyzing his enemy and piloting unmanned aerial vehicles. Adding to the stress of his job was the daughter and wife he left behind. Two weeks after arriving to Kabul, he found out his wife was pregnant.
“I missed pretty much the whole pregnancy. I came home for mid-tour before the birth and stayed for a couple weeks, then I was gone again,” Miller said.
Returning from Kandahar, Miller was met with a wife who had established a routine with his then 18-month-old daughter.
“One of the hardest things was getting back into the routine,” Miller said. “She was used to running the show. I had to learn to sit back and watch and flow back in. A lot had changed.”
One of the bigger changes after his return was the decision not to reenlist in the Army in August. The stress of his second deployment prompted him to return to his studies and his family.
“Family is always the priority,” Miller said. “The Army says I am a soldier first, but really I am a father and husband first. They have their reasons for saying that, but … after the Army my family will still be there.”
Miller’s return to Oklahoma brought him back to where he was a civilian before joining the Army. He moved to Norman shortly before turning 21 and attended Oklahoma City Community College for two semesters before moving to Illinois.
He returned to Oklahoma again for training in Fort Sill, where he met the woman who would become his wife and would lead him back to Norman after returning from Kandahar. While Miller was overseas, she left their home in New York for support from her family. Now the wife of a civilian, she’s had to make some adjustments as well.
“We’ve kind of switched things around,” Miller said. “For five years, she was a stay-at-home mom.”
Her work has made it possible for Miller to return to his studies.
“I’d thought about taking classes while I was in the Army, but I had no time. Whatever time I had at home was family time,” Miller said.
Family time happens on the weekends for Miller now, who usually studies in the evenings after his daughter goes to sleep. After a month in classes, he has settled into a routine.
“I was a little scared, transitioning into civilian and full-time student life,” Miller said. “I was anxious, but I had a lot of support from my wife and family. The first couple weeks were the hardest, but then everything fell into place.”
According to Veteran Student Services, Miller is one of 1,040 veteran students at OU, a number boosted by the return of many veterans from Afghanistan and Kuwait in the spring.
While Miller decided to use his Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for school, he and other veteran students have other options because of their background.
OU’s Student Veterans Association is affiliated with the national organization, Student Veterans of America, which offers many scholarship opportunities, SVA staff adviser Dalynda Evans said.
The organization, which welcomed 30 new students to its list in August, serves as a support system for student veterans, especially for those transitioning from military to student life.
Evans said OU’s SVA works to help make the transition from military to college life easier for students.
She has seen many student veterans make the transition successfully, she said, and hopes that the organization was a part of that success.
Miller said he does not count himself disadvantaged, having a family while being a full-time student.
“Some might say it is a disadvantage, but I feel like I have an advantage over other students,” he said. “I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through anything.”
For veterans struggling to get into a routine after deployment, the department of Veterans Affairs offers many support options. According to their website, VA centers offer readjustment counseling for veterans and their families, including after-hours services to accommodate busy schedules.