A veteran’s return to life as a student

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A veteran’s return to life as a student

Spires happily reflects on one of her favorite experiences in the Navy. In 2017 she decided to return to civilian life to pursue an education and prepare for a future family. Photo credit: Michelle De Leon

Spires happily reflects on one of her favorite experiences in the Navy. In 2017 she decided to return to civilian life to pursue an education and prepare for a future family. Photo credit: Michelle De Leon

Spires happily reflects on one of her favorite experiences in the Navy. In 2017 she decided to return to civilian life to pursue an education and prepare for a future family. Photo credit: Michelle De Leon

Spires happily reflects on one of her favorite experiences in the Navy. In 2017 she decided to return to civilian life to pursue an education and prepare for a future family. Photo credit: Michelle De Leon

By Ashton Blatz

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Moorpark College has many student veterans on campus, but former sailor Ryan Spires shares her views on transitioning from military to academic and civilian life. It was her stepdad who had spent 25 years in the navy that inspired Spires to follow in his footsteps.

Before enlisting in the military, Spires lived in Mississippi with nine siblings. Her family did not have a lot of money, but Spires was determined to attend college. Having a stepdad who was in the Navy for 25 years motivated Spires to follow in his footsteps. Spires moved thousands of miles away from her family to a unit in California and started boot camp.

Spires is a business student and lives with her husband. She loves Korean BBQ pork belly and spends her free time watching the newest horror movies. Keeping up with celebrities like Cole Sprouse is another hobby of Spires.

“I’m the only family member that moved out of Mississippi,” said Spires. “So it was really hard to go home and find time to go home … I felt isolated when I first got into the military. I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have any friends.”

After completing a year of boot camp, Spires became a steelworker and did the welding for the “Seabees” battalion. When the battalion was in its home port, they would receive blueprints on how to create various projects and test their construction.

The battalions would eventually be deployed and put their creations into action. Spires said the first four years were dedicated to construction and being combat-ready.

She was later assigned to a new unit in which she was promoted to petty officer of military funeral honors. Spires would contact families of the deceased, plan out the funerals, and do paperwork. She was also responsible for doing the flag ceremony where she would give a speech on the deceased and hand the loved ones a folded-up United States flag.

“It was really hard,” said Spires. “Especially when the loved one was crying because there was this speech you had to say when you present it so you’re trying to say it … sometimes I would get choked up when I was presenting it to them and it was really hard to finish.”

Spires said although being in the military was often repetitive, she benefited greatly from the experience and a sense of unity that continues even outside of the military.

“I learned a lot about being part of a team and being part of a larger unit,” said Spires. “You feel a sort of family… and I think that’s why I stick around with veterans now because there was this unity in the military and I wanna keep that unity.”

Working in a male-dominant industry that is the military, Spires said that she was treated differently than her male counterparts. Women in the navy, especially in the construction area were few in number. Men often thought of them as incapable of doing the same amount or quality of work, according to Spires.

“A lot of them look at women and expect us to be lazy and not wanting to work hard and do our job,” said Spires. “Or they expect us to be one of the guys. So I got teased a lot from the guys. I found it a lot easier if I dressed more masculine… so they wouldn’t treat me differently. But, at the same time, they protected me when we were out in town… Kinda best of both worlds.”

Spires never let this hold her back. A lot of this came from her upbringing. She was raised in part by her stepmom who taught her to never let other people put her down or make her feel lesser because she is a woman.

“My stepmom… is an incredibly powerful woman. Whenever I talk to her and I see her, I deal with my family issues or work issues, and… she always told me, ‘No matter what you wanna do, just know that you can do it. Even if you wanna go into a male-dominant field…’ Anytime I’m down and I’m like ‘I can’t do this,’ I’m like ‘yes, I can, because look who I grew up with,'” Spires said.

Spires eventually left the military in November 2017 when she felt it was time to transition into civilian life.

“It was kinda time for me. I met my husband and I want to have kids,” said Spires. “I wanted to get out and get prepared for creating a family later on, so I wanted to get my bearings in the civilian world.”

Spires said that being in the military at 18 made the outside world appear scary and new, especially since she was so far away from her home and family. With the help of her husband, Spires began the process of integrating back into civilian society.

This began with enrolling in Moorpark College in Jan. 2018.

Spires said that her husband helped her find the Veteran’s Center, where she was able to receive the assistance she needed.

“He had to help me find the Veteran’s Resource Center and this is where I actually learned how to register and everything,” Spires said. “The people who worked here before me really helped me find my way at Moorpark.”

Her first semester at Moorpark College was tough even with the assistance of the Veteran’s Resource Center. Integrating into the mainstream student population on campus was challenging for Spires.

“I had no friends, I didn’t know anybody, because I spent most of my time in Ventura,” said Spires. “This is probably the first semester where I’ve made friends so it’s been about a year.”

The classroom environment can be rough. Many students and professors don’t understand how to have a respectful conversation with a veteran, meaning they can sometimes bring up a veteran’s life as a soldier without their expressed permission, making them feel uncomfortable.

This has been a struggle for many veterans, including Spires, who can feel intimidated by the classroom setting.

“Everyone else is talking before class and I’m just sitting there because I feel like I never took the uniform off,” said Spires. “And I feel like once someone hears I’m a veteran, everything just shuts down and there’s like nothing to talk about.”

Spires said that the college could improve on their treatment and respect of veterans to make their experience in class more comfortable.

“I still think that the faculty could get more of training on how to deal with veterans,” Spires added. “A lot of my professors, when they know I’m a veteran they call on me a lot more and want me to lead the group and I kinda just want to stay in the background.”

Despite having to deal with the awkwardness of being a veteran in a world that often doesn’t understand, Spires feels comfortable at the veteran’s center and has begun to make friends. She also has direction in her academics.

She plans on finishing her two years of general education at Moorpark College and then wants to go on to Cal Lutheran to acquire her Bachelor’s Degree in accounting. After that, she wants to get a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license and pursue a career in business.

Spires has advice for those who are curious about getting to know the veterans on campus.

“Come in. Talk to us,” Spires said. “We are there at a lot of the events on campus … the biggest thing we try to get people to understand is just come in and talk to us. If you have someone in your class that’s a veteran, you can just talk to them. We’re people too and we don’t have a problem talking to you.”

To learn more about the Veteran’s Center, click here.

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