Simon served in the U.S. Army as an E-4 combat medic and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. He returned home for eleven months before embarking on another mission in Iraq from 2007-2009. For three years, he survived with a fight or flight mentality. “When you’re deployed, everything is really life or death,” he explained.
In Afghanistan, Simon witnessed his first roadside bomb explosion while patrolling in a Humvee. He said the experience is “still a hard thing to shake off,” and contributes to the PTSD and night terrors he suffers from daily. He attends sleep therapy regularly for his PTSD but also is affected by moral injuries related to the emotional, psychological, social and spiritual impacts of actions that contradict a service member’s values. As a medic, he fought on the front lines with his platoon and tended to the wounded. “What keeps me awake at night is thinking about my actions and how they affected other people,” Simon said.
After witnessing trauma and facing the dangers of battle, Simon returned home safe, but the world around him had completely changed: Beijing had hosted the summer Olympic games, Barack Obama had won the Presidential election and the iPhone had become a household name. With his feet back on American soil, Simon said the transition to civilian life was not easy. There are 18.2 million veterans in the U.S., according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, but returning service members can feel isolated and alone. “People may not look at veterans as a minority group, but we are,” he explained. “We have the highest rates of homelessness, drug abuse, divorce and suicide among other minority groups.”
Serving at TU
Despite the odds stacked against him, Simon moved forward with his life and applied to TU. He found encouragement and a new group of fellow veterans at TU’s Calvin C. McKee Veterans Success Center. Housed in McClure Hall, the facility serves more than 80 student veterans and offers employee resources to better understand military culture. These resources include the Kognito’s Veterans on Campus course, a brief online professional development session that guides staff and faculty through three culture-sensitive interactions with student veterans. “One lesson focuses on how to best facilitate a veteran’s unique perspective in a classroom discussion,” explained Matt Maupin, veterans career coordinator. “Military cultural awareness across campus is an area that military-friendly universities such as TU strive to achieve.”
Financially, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® provides education benefits for veterans such as Simon. TU also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which supplements tuition costs not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Cindy Watts, director of veteran affairs, oversees TU’s Yellow Ribbon Program, but her role extends beyond a program administrator. TU student veterans view her as a friend and someone who cares about their education and lives. “It’s an honor to get to work with these men and women,” Watts said. “I have an open-door policy and will always make the time to visit the veterans when they come to my office.”
Simon also benefits from the Calvin C. McKee Veteran Center, home to the Student Veterans Association, and a hangout where student veterans can relax and take a break from their busy schedules. As the TU chapter’s communications officer this year, Simon will organize the SVA tailgates at home football games. Serving as an SVA officer, connecting with his professors and receiving customized support as a U.S. veteran allow Simon to feel accepted at TU and work toward the future.
As an U.S. Air Force veteran, TU President Gerard P. Clancy understands what it means to serve his country, and he takes pride in TU’s military-friendly campus. “We found our veterans often have higher GPAs than our general student body, and we have 100% job or graduate school placement with our veterans,” Clancy said.
“Attending TU provides a prestigious education and resources to network and launch a career,” Simon said. “I can call my professors a year from now and they will still be willing to help me get in touch with someone in the industry and give me advice about how to run my own business.”
Never off duty
As a student, Simon continues to demonstrate his heart for service. During Oklahoma’s historic flooding this past spring, Simon channeled his rescue instincts and coordinated a volunteer team to fill sandbags and deliver them to those affected. Other ways he is involved within the community include organizing Tulsa’s Mardi Gras Masquerade. The philanthropic ball is hosted by the Tulsa Veterans of Foreign Wars and TU SVA to raise funds for local veterans returning from war. The experience keeps Simon engaged with fellow veterans as he advocates for them on campus and in the community.