At age 18, with no plans to attend college, I enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Security Forces apprentice. I joined the Air Force looking to build a profession and gain experience in law enforcement. But my experiences while working in the field changed my life forever.
During my tour in Iraq, suicide in the military nearly doubled from the year prior. This significant increase made suicide awareness more important than ever before in military history. I took an interest in why this was happening. “What causes them to think this way?” I wondered.
Unknowingly, I began my journey into the psychology field, reading articles on human behavior, mental illness and resiliency. I would talk to my brothers and sisters in arms about their troubled situations with marital problems, finances or family issues. I would find solutions for them and give advice, hoping they’d gain a more optimistic perspective.
When we returned to the States, one of our team members was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This motivated me to find out why he was the one to develop PTSD if we’d all gone through the same experiences. Little did I know, the answer involved a long road of academics ahead. A month after I ended active duty, I began taking psychology courses in Colorado. I grew an interest in research and transferred here to the University of Miami, where I am currently studying anxiety disorders.
While the transition from military life to student life was a challenge at my previous school, Miami has a strong veteran community, which has flourished under the supportive Veterans Student Organization (VSO). But many students at UM are clueless about the veterans with whom they share the classroom.
Support is one of the strongest tools to lead a fulfilling life. In the Air Force, I saw firsthand the importance of support. Our veterans still carry the courtesy they adopted in the military, and they are motivated to help others. Once you serve, you never stop.
If you see veterans walking around campus or even have them as classmates, take the time to thank them for their service and ask them to share their experience with you. We are happy to tell you about the sacrifices we’ve made to give you the opportunities you have today.
Steve Gomez is a graduate student in psychology.