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From Combat to Classroom

‘Boots to Books’ program attempts to ease transition for veterans

Created date

August 4th, 2009
ERC_0809_Boots to Books Pic 1
ERC_0809_Boots to Books Pic 1

Students in the Boots to Books class pose with course instructor and cofounder Manuel Martinez (front row, center). A Vietnam veteran, Martinez has been counseling other vets in the Los Angeles area for over 20 years. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Solheim)" The small, tightly knit Citrus Community College in Glendora, Calif., is doing something big for the education of veterans recently returned from the Middle East. Boots to Books is a four-credit course and the first of its kind developed for combat veterans with the aim of easing their transition from military to civilian life. ' There are two goals behind Boots to Books, explains history professor Bruce Solheim, who is also cofounder of the program and himself a veteran of the Army s 82nd Airborne Division. First, we want to educate combat veterans about post-traumatic stress syndrome, which is probably the greatest obstacle that many of them face in readapting to civilian life. Doing this, we ve found, helps them adjust to academic life, which is the second goal.

Tackling tough transitions

According to Solheim, these transitions are difficult ones as both involve moving from the soldier s structured regimen of commanders orders and daily routines to the free and highly individual civilian lifestyle. First offered as a 100-level counseling class in the fall of 2007, Boots to Books provides a forum in which troops can put their own military experiences into perspective through open discussion, at the same time gaining skills that help them deal with postwar problems before they become unmanageable. Specific course objectives include gaining an understanding of the psychological consequences of modern warfare, learning anger and stress management techniques, ending the social isolation common among recent combat veterans, and cultivating effective study skills that ensure future academic success. The class s reading materials are just as varied as its goals. Listed on the course syllabus are titles such as On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life and After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families, which together address the social and academic challenges facing combat vets.

Spreading to other campuses

In fact, the class has been so successful that more than a dozen other colleges have created similar ones. Many of the veterans who ve taken the course attribute their sticking with college to the course itself, says Solheim. It gives them the boost that they need to take the skills and responsibilities that they ve learned in the military and adapt them to an academic setting, he adds.michael.williams@erickson.com

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