FEATURED WINTER 2012 ARTICLE
Life's New Station
Student veterans find new professional paths—and support—at Temple.
By Jennifer Sweeney
|Montes Carrasquillo served in Iraq from 2008 to 2009. Now, he is a film studies major in the School of
Communications and Theater. Photo credits: left: Ryan S. Brandenberg; right: Jim Roese Photography
While stationed at Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad, Montes Carrasquillo
transported infantry in and out of Iraq’s border hot zones and manned an M120
mortar system on a Stryker Brigade Combat Team carrier. From 2008 to 2009,
he served as a specialist in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Alpha
Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment.
“One unique thing about this war is that the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform,” he
explains, “so we were always assessing who was a friend and who was a foe.”
Currently a full-time film and media arts major in the School of Communications
and Theater, Carrasquillo describes the Iraqi villages he has seen as looking
“a lot like the sets of The Ten Commandments.
“Off the base, you had to know your surroundings, layouts of towns, members of
families—when any of it changed, you had to notice.” His unit trained to focus on
details contrary to everyday life in the region, like “seeing someone from a farming
village wearing leather boots—definitely a red flag that things were not what they seemed.”
Between stints with the Army National Guard, Carrasquillo studied photography
and photo-imaging at Community College of Philadelphia. Now, he applies the
visual skills he honed in the field to his pursuit of a bachelor of arts degree in film and media arts, and toward a career in film editing and cinematography.
His functions as driver and mortarman required him to be physically active and
constantly on the move, which he found far more appealing than working
behind a desk. The process of studying film and media eased his transition
to civilian life.
“The only time I spend inside is when I’m working in the editing room, if I can
help it,” he says. Outside the classroom, his learning happens when he is
working on film shoots. He also seeks fieldwork opportunities in locations that
change from project to project.
By far, Carrasquillo is not the only student veteran learning to adjust to life
outside the military: The returning and first-time student-veteran population
has become the fastest-growing demographic at Temple. That population is likely representative of the population nationwide: By the end of 2011, approximately
50,000 U.S. troops had withdrawn from Iraq, and another 33,000 troops will return
from Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012. Many veterans have already begun
using their GI education benefits at institutions across the country.
Carrasquillo’s main motivation for earning his degree has been to set a high bar
for his 14-year-old daughter by taking advantage of his veteran benefits to earn
“I want to be able to encourage and inspire her by saying, ‘I fought a war, came
back, went to school and finished!’”
Temple aims to graduate as many student veterans as it accepts, but the road
from GI Bill benefit entitlement certification to the classroom can be fraught with administrative pitfalls, legislation changes and rules that differ from state to state.
To help veterans avoid procedural roadblocks and smooth the transition from military
to academic life, Temple founded the Veterans Task Force Committee in 2010.
The Veterans Task Force Committee is a collaborative initiative that comprises all key student services departments. Overseen by Vicki McGarvey, vice provost for
University College, the committee includes Debbie Campbell, senior assistant
dean in the Fox School of Business; William Parshall, executive director of Temple
University Center City and extension services; John Bennett, director of the Office
of Disability Resources and Services; and Laura Reddick, associate director for adult
and student-veteran recruitment. They meet monthly to discuss new information,
learn of benefit changes, organize social events and streamline administrative
“Laura is a big help, always forwarding the newest information to me, checking in
with me and helping me network,” Carrasquillo says. She has helped him garner
work on various video projects, such as the online Temple Veterans testimonial
video (available at temple.edu/veterans). “She also connected me with the Temple
Veterans Association, where I’ll meet students this year.”
Founded in 2011 by economics and finance major and veteran Hyman Lee, Class of
2012, the Temple Veterans Association was organized to provide peer support and
build community among the university’s student, faculty and staff veteran population.
And as a participant in the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, Temple works with the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to augment the maximum Post-9/11 GI Bill coverage—currently $17,500 per year. Temple—one of only six participating schools in
the Philadelphia area—pays 50 percent of the gap between tuition and fees and what soldiers receive in Post-9/11 education benefits. Veterans Affairs then matches that payment.
Because Temple’s tuition is relatively low, all undergraduate educational costs can
be covered under those benefits. But helping student veterans is not just a matter
of tuition. According to Veterans for Common Sense, which compiled data about
veterans’ disabilities in 2011, nearly 50 percent of veterans of the conflicts in
Iraq and Afghanistan who are treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs are
mental health patients.*
Additionally, 29 percent of those treated suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
For those arriving at Temple with physical or mental health conditions, the Office of Disability Resources and Services offers help for soldiers who are suffering.
Ashley Grasty served in the U.S. Navy from 2006 to 2010. She currently studies human resource management
in the Fox School of Business. Photo credits: left: Joseph V. Labolito; right: Courtesy of Ashley Grasty
|Ashley Grasty served in the U.S. Navy from May 2006 to April 2010, well over
the requisite 36 months of active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. She was a logistics
specialist stationed at U.S. Naval Base Guam aboard USS Frank Cable, a ship
called a “tender,” on which submarine crews rely for replenishment of supplies
and repairs. Managing the needs and requirements of submarine crews requires
peak organizational skills and sharp time management.
“When there are 200 personnel together in close quarters,you get to see up
close what good managers do, how their staff reacts and what makes other
managers struggle to get cooperation,” she says. “There is a huge advantage
to learning how to manage people properly.”
That experience complements her education at Temple, where she is working
toward a bachelor of business administration, majoring in human resource management and planning to graduate with the Class of 2013.
She, too, received welcome guidance from the Veterans Task Force Committee—particularly Debbie Campbell. “She is a really good person to have
on your side!” Grasty says. “Since the day we were introduced, she’s been
making sure we are all taken care of and know we can contact her about any
problems. She has been there for me 100 percent.”
At an event hosted by the task force, Grasty met Anthony Wagner, executive
vice president for financial affairs, CFO and treasurer of Temple. It was a
significant turning point for her, a moment when she realized that since
serving in the Navy, she faces a host of professional opportunities.
“I was really inspired by Tony’s speech because we both chose the Navy,” she
says. “We went through the same boot camp and have common military
experiences, and he’s the chief financial officer of a major university. His story
was so meaningful to hear, and very encouraging.” Due to her service
qualifications, Grasty receives the full Post-9/11 benefit, which covers 100
percent of tuition and fees for full-time study, plus a housing allowance, and a
stipend for books and supplies. In conjunction with the Yellow Ribbon Program,
the Post-9/11 GI Bill can maximize the funds available, especially for in-state
students considering graduate and doctoral programs.
For now, Grasty is concentrating on her undergraduate studies, but explains
that just by having the option of the benefits provided by the Yellow Ribbon
Program and Temple, graduate school has gone from being a financially
unrealistic dream to a tangible possibility.
|Brandon Porinchak, SED ’11, served in the Army National Guard from 1997 to 2007. He is now project |
manager of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photo credits: left: Courtesy of Brandon Porinchak; right: Ryan S. Brandenberg
|Brandon Porinchak, SED ’11, served in the Army National Guard from February
1997 to December 2007. While stationed at Camp Taji with the 28th Infantry Division, 28th Special Troops Battalion, he was responsible for providing infrastructure for voice
and data communication in areas without feeding towers. His main goal was to “keep everybody talking and every unit connected.”
While in Iraq, Porinchak founded Operation Keystone Cares, a nationwide effort
of U.S. families who donated clothing, school supplies and sports equipment to civilians living near the base.
“The outreach was great for building relationships with our neighbors and supporting needy communities,” he says. “You see kids with no shoes, wearing old clothing, and
you want to help. It’s a worthwhile cause.”
In fall 2008, he joined the School of Environmental Design to study community
planning and regional development with a focus on sustainable communities. As a nontraditional student pursuing a master of science degree with a family
and a full-time career, he took advantage of being able to take classes in both
Ambler and Harrisburg, as well as online via video conference.
His graduate school expenses were covered in part by his remaining Post-9/11
GI Bill benefit, and a highly prestigious, two-year, paid Presidential Management
Fellowship, which fast tracks outstanding graduate students into federal
employment opportunities. Becoming a fellow meant that he had to be nominated
by the university, an honor reserved only for top students.
Continuing his mission of advocacy for underrepresented populations, he took employment with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
as project manager of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative—“an
interagency urban revitalization program spearheaded by the White House and
the Obama administration.
“I assist the public with public- or supportive-housing options for low-income families,
and prevent singlefamily foreclosures,” he explains. Porinchak also is a member of the Federal Interagency Council for Workforce Development and Job Creation, and he supports HUD’s transparency efforts by managing Freedom of Information Act requests and making previously undisclosed government
information readily available to the general public.
“Temple has been very good to me,” he says. “I want to give back."
Jennifer Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New Jersey.
*Veterans for Common Sense, “VA: Consequences of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” March 8, 2011. govexec.com/pdfs/032111bb1.pdf