UNI student veterans go from combat to classroom

"You carry the knowledge that you may have your life turned upside down at the
drop of a hat," said Tolliver.

This Veteran's Day, college students across the country will honor those who served in the U.S. military through a variety of ceremonies, programs, receptions and other planned events. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect in August 2009, more than 300,000 recent veterans have enrolled at colleges and universities, and many of them have stories that can inspire a nation.

University of Northern Iowa student Tim Tolliver joined the Army in 1996 because he, "knew he wouldn't be a good student" and he wanted to do something that benefited him.

Fast-forward to 2011, now Tolliver is one of more than 250 student veterans at UNI working toward their degree.

Below are just a few of their stories.

173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team

Shown above are members
of the 173rd Airborne
Brigade Combat Team.

Photo Credit:
U.S. Department of Defense

Tim Tolliver, U.S. Army, majoring in social work

In addition to joining the Army because it appealed to him, Tolliver wanted to do something "cool." He thought jumping out of planes with guns sounded pretty cool, so he enlisted and soon found himself stationed in Germany, Italy and Fort Bragg, N.C.

"I wouldn't have had the opportunity to see those places if I weren't in the Army," said Tolliver.

He had the privilege of being in what is now the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and also spent a few years in the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1st Infantry Division. Tolliver has been deployed three times – nine months in Kosovo; 13 months in Iraq; and a second 15-month tour in Iraq.

Now a social work major at UNI, Tolliver is co-chair of the UNI Student Veterans Association (SVA). The SVA was developed to help other student veterans transition to college life and succeed.

"In the future, we would like to see a mentorship program and orientation and training programs that include faculty and staff," said Tolliver. "We're here to help other veterans on campus; the more people we can get to support our organization, the better."

Tolliver has found his path to success, but he wants people to know that his road, and the road of other veterans and their families, wasn't always easy.

"There are a lot of sacrifices that come with being a part of the military," said Tolliver.  "You carry the knowledge that you may have your life turned upside down at the drop of a hat.  The veterans that were willing to do the things that were asked of them deserve respect and thanks."

UNI student Courtney Greif in Afghanistan while on active duty with the Army National Guard
UNI student Courtney
Greif recently spent time
in Afghanistan while on
active duty with the
Army National Guard.

Courtney Greif, U.S. Army National Guard and ROTC, majoring in elementary education

Small world stories happen everyday. It's like a million pieces of a jigsaw puzzle traveling around the world. An old school friend, who you haven't seen in year, sits next to you on an empty plane, you run into someone from your hometown halfway across the world, or you randomly meet your future college roommate while on deployment to Afghanistan. That's exactly what happened to Courtney Greif and her roommate Miranda Pleggenkuhle. They are a small world story.

Courtney Greif chose to serve in the military out of a sense of duty and commitment to her country.

"I couldn't sit back and watch others risk everything while I was simply reaping the benefits," said Greif.

On her most recent deployment to Afghanistan, she was assigned to force protection and access control.

"I worked closely with the Afghan men, which is an extraordinary opportunity as a female in the military," said Greif. Afghan women would not have been allowed the same role in their culture.

At the same time, Pleggenkuhle was also in Afghanistan, in the same brigade as Greif to be exact. They randomly bumped into each other one day, and to their surprise, found out that both had recently been admitted to UNI for the fall 2011 semester. Destiny was on their side; they instantly decided to be roommates.

Now, Greif and Pleggenkuhle are settled in at UNI. Greif is majoring in elementary education and is also a member of the UNI Student Veterans Association and ROTC program.

David Hind, U.S. Air Force, majoring in social science

By 1972, the Vietnam War had been going on for 17 years with no end in sight. That conflict is what encouraged David Hind to not wait to be drafted and enlist in the Air Force right out of high school.

Hind's family had a history with the Army, but a chance encounter changed his mind.

"Embrace your education as you have
embraced your life," said Hind.

"I went to see an Army recruiter, but he didn't show up for the appointment, so I walked across the hall and talked to the Air Force," said Hind.

Hind went through basic training and was stationed in South Carolina, ready to be deployed to a base in Thailand. In 1975, the war ended and Hind never went to Thailand, but soon found he would have plenty of chances to travel.

Hind specialized in aircraft maintenance, which gave him the opportunity to travel to Korea, Germany and England. During those travels he came to some conclusions.

"I came to the realization that the enemy is just like you, they're in the military for the same reason you are," said Hind. "I started to gain an appreciation for other cultures; we're not really all that different."

Hind retired in 1996 after 24 years in the Air Force. Higher education, specifically being a social studies teacher, was always something in the back of his mind, so he enrolled first in Northeastern State University in Oklahoma and eventually found his way to UNI.

Now, Hind is majoring in social science and is more than halfway to his goal of becoming a social studies teacher. He also is a member of the UNI Student Veterans Association and has some advice for other student veterans.

"Hold your head up and be proud of who you are and what you have already accomplished in life," said Hind. "Embrace your education as you have embraced your life."

Each of these student veterans has had life experiences that most of us will never have. But, now they can take those experiences and apply then to the classroom, share them with fellow veterans or educate the UNI community.