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LSU Honors Hosts Student Veterans Panel

Student veterans speak candidly about their experiences

On Thursday, September 11, the LSU Honors College hosted a panel discussion with LSU student veterans. The panel was hosted in partnership with the University’s Veterans & Military Student Services office, which provides support and guidance for US veterans enrolled at LSU.

The panel was hosted as a follow-up event to the recent Honors College Convocation, which featured a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter and author David Finkel. In his remarks, Finkel spoke about the challenges veterans and their families face when soldiers return to civilian life after deployment in war. Finkel’s recent nonfiction account of these challenges, Thank You for Your Service, was the 2014 Honors College Shared Read book. 

“We hosted this panel to bring LSU student veterans together with Honors students, who have no experience with combat,” said Granger Babcock, Associate Dean of the Honors College and Rector of Laville Honors House. “After reading Thank You for Your Service, we wanted our students to get a different, first-hand perspective from their fellow students, and to learn about their experiences fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was eye-opening.”

Students who attended were encouraged to ask questions, and the panelists responded with candid answers. The discussion was moderated by Veterans & Military Student Services Coordinator Adam Jennings, who is himself a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a graduate of LSU.

"With less than one percent of the population serving in the military, events like this provide a unique first-hand perspective of global events that impact our society," Jennings noted.

The panel was made up of four LSU students who had previously served in a branch of the US military and as part of their service had deployed in either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars—or both:

Steven Brailsford is currently a junior at LSU majoring in Political Science. He enlisted in the US Army after graduating from high school in 2007, and deployed as an infantryman near Sadr City, Iraq in 2009.

George Godfrey is majoring in English Literature at LSU, and served for seven years as an Army Ranger, where he served in a scout sniper platoon, as a fire team leader, and as a squad leader. In those seven years he deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, and participated in the surges in both countries.

Felipe Membreno was a freshman at LSU when he decided to join the National Guard and deploy to Afghanistan, where he had been stationed for the past ten months. He returned to campus at the outset of the Fall 2014 semester, a mere two weeks before Thursday’s panel. “Life here seems so easy now,” he noted during the discussion. “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a simple phone call.”

Nick Trapani enlisted in the Marine Corps in April 2004 deployed to Iraq and Kuwait as an Infantry Assaultman in 200%. He also served in 2006 in Karma, Iraq and in 2007 to Ramadi, Iraq. Today he is a senior in the E.J. Ourso College of Business, majoring in Entrepreneurship and Business Management.

Topics ranged from the effectiveness of drone strikes without boots on the ground to how the US should handle the current ISIS uprising in Iraq. Students asked how the veterans felt about women serving in combat, and about the quality of care they had received from Veterans’ Affairs.

All agreed that their interactions with the Veterans Affairs healthcare system had been “absolutely atrocious.”

“In modern American warrior culture, you aren’t ‘supposed’ to get help,” one panelist said, “and then when you finally do, you don’t receive good help. I’ve lost more friends to suicide than I have to battle.”

Another panelist described how, when fellow soldiers had sought treatment for mental health issues, the doctors they saw had simply prescribed numerous medications. “What would really help is more counseling,” he continued, “more help in learning how to cope with it, how to assimilate the experience.”

Much of the discussion centered on Thank You for Your Service; many of the panelists had read the book and attended Finkel’s talk. The soldiers described how some of their own experiences with PTSD had differed from those depicted in the book. They noted that Thank You for Your Service was only one facet of the many experiences of US veterans.

“You have to remember, we’re not different people,” said one of the veterans. “We just chose to get our real-world experience before college, rather than after.”

For more information on or to get in touch with the LSU Veterans & Military Student Services office, call 225-588-9084 or e-mail veterans@lsu.edu.

 

Article by Liz Billet, LSU Honors College, lbillet@lsu.edu