‘Set me up to succeed’: Veterans talk transition from military service to studies

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Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services in Posvar Hall.

By Donata Massimiani, Staff Writer

Lindsay Loughlin served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2013. Knowing nothing but the military since they graduated high school, Loughlin said transitioning back into everyday life and developing their own identity outside of the Marine Corps was very challenging.

“Your entire identity has been shaped to be a marine for four years, that’s what you do, that’s who you are. Suddenly that’s not you at all and you’re just a normal person,” Loughlin, a senior creative writing major, said. “I was never an adult, not in the military. Being an adult outside the military was like, ‘I don’t know who the hell I am.’”

Many students — both traditional and non-traditional  — come to Pitt after or while serving in the military. Although the transition from serving in the military to being a student can be difficult, many students excel in their studies at Pitt.

After leaving the Marines, Loughlin immediately began pursuing an associate’s degree at a community college in Oregon, which they completed two years later. Loughlin became interested in applying to Pitt after hearing about the philosophy program from a friend who was living in Pittsburgh at the time. Now a student at Pitt, Loughlin said their military experience both helped and hurt them throughout college so far. 

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“When things are rough, I realize I’ve gone through worse. I’ve done so many more challenging things than, say, writing an essay,” Loughlin said. “But, it greatly affected my mental health. PTSD gets really rough at times and when that flares up, it’s really hard.”

Loughlin found a way to cope with their experience through writing. Loughlin said their interest in writing began after they wrote an essay about being in the military for a prerequisite writing course. 

“The first essay I wrote where I was like, ‘hey I can do something with this,’ was about being in the military,” Loughlin said. “Writing about the military got me interested in it, and the more I did it, the more I felt like I actually had some skills in it.”

They said during college they’ve written “about three or four larger pieces of writing” about their experience in the military. Loughlin said it took a while to be able to truly say what they wanted to say about their military experience and not turn the essays into “trauma therapy.”

“When I first started writing about it, I couldn’t really think about it much. I was avoiding dealing with any of those problems for a long time,” Loughlin said. “Writing about it started to allow me to talk about it without actually having to talk about it in a way.” 

Similarly to Loughlin, Jamie Bucher joined the military directly after graduating from high school. Bucher was on active duty in the Air Force from 2008 to 2019, but said she would have served longer if she didn’t have to leave due to medical reasons. Medically disqualified from joining the guard reserves, Bucher decided to attend Pitt and finish her degree.

“As soon as I got out I knew I had to have something already in line. I definitely wanted to progress in life,” Bucher, a senior health services major, said. “I got my associates degree through the community college at the Air Force while I was in and was actually already working on my bachelor’s as well, hoping to finish it before I got out.”

Bucher said after deploying three times and living and breathing the Air Force for 11 years, she didn’t know how to be a civilian once she had to leave.

“I’ve been out for about two years now and I’m still in a transitioning phase,” Bucher said. “I’m still learning how a lot of stuff works because there’s a lot of things I didn’t have to worry about while I was in that I have to worry about now. Transitioning is difficult out of the military.”

Bucher also said transitioning out of the military is easier with ‘good support and a lot of help.’ A resource she used to help her in the transition was Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services, which helps veterans navigate their military education benefits.

“I don’t know if other schools have a veteran’s service office like we have at the University of Pittsburgh, they’ve been amazing,” Bucher said. “I don’t know if I could be finishing now without the support from them, they are super supportive.

Bucher said her post-graduate plans include moving to Cambodia to teach English for about six months to a year. She eventually wants to work for the federal government, but isn’t quite ready for that yet. 

“Over the summer while I was going to Pitt, I was also getting a certification in TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language,” Bucher said. “I also really miss getting to travel and I don’t really have that anymore. I feel like this is the closest thing I can do for myself to have that kind of experience again.”

Joshua Rosenbush, a graduate student getting his master’s degree in international development, joined the Navy in 2009 and stayed for about nine years. Rosenbush attended St. John’s University in Minnesota after graduating high school, and was motivated by a friend to join the military after completing his undergraduate degree. Similarly to Bucher, travel was something he looked for in a career.

“I originally joined the Navy because I was looking for multiple things in a career,” Rosenbush said. “I wanted to travel, I wanted to get great business experience, I wanted to serve the country and I knew I wanted to go back to school and didn’t want to pay for it.” 

Rosenbush said he decided to leave the Navy because he wanted to seek out entrepreneurial opportunities and raise his children outside of a military setting. He also said he began having moral issues with his Navy work.

“I had a pretty significant change of heart about serving in the military. Which I fully realize is not the opinion of a lot of people but honestly, I felt like we were never going to bring peace to the world by killing the bad guy,” Rosenbush said. “My role as a supply corps officer was in a way feeding the military industrial machine. I couldn’t picture myself down the road signing a contract for the navy’s newest bomber, or the newest missile defense system or torpedo.” 

After leaving the Navy, Rosenbush got a job in the social and economic well-being division at the RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office. Since he was already in Pittsburgh, he decided to apply to Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University, and was accepted to both. He said he chose Pitt because of its Urban Affairs and Planning degree program.

“I’ve always been interested in real estate and affordable housing and through that degree program, I have really been able to pursue those interests,” Rosenbush said.

Rosenbush is currently completing a joint-degree program at Pitt. He is earning a finance degree through the Katz School of Business and a master’s degree in international development through the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, where his major is Urban Affairs and Planning.

Rosenbush said his experience in the Navy has helped him throughout his time at Pitt and gained many skills that help him in his studies. 

“Whether it was being on a ship and being deployed, or working toward deployment certifications where it would be weeks and months of long hours and hard work, you had a goal in mind. You had something in your targets,” Rosenbush said. “That ability to work hard and prioritize and to have the endurance has really set me up to succeed in school.”

After completing his degrees at Pitt, Rosenbush said he’s not exactly sure what career path he will take, but that he wants to focus on building community. 

“Anything that has to do with building community is going to be the work of my life,” Rosenbush said. “If the work is aimed toward building community that’s where I will most likely find a place.”