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CTC’s Green Zones help student veterans transition

Faculty and staff members at Chattahoochee Technical College want their student veterans to transition from military service to college life as smoothly as possible.

That’s why the college established a Green Zone initiative to support them in their post-secondary endeavors in the way they supported the United States when they were defending its freedom.  

“The Green Zone program is a very important part [that] indicates the commitment and willingness of the college employees from all departments to jointly serve and support the veterans and their families as they work to achieve their academic goals at Chattahoochee Technical College,” Veteran Services Coordinator Barry Munday said. “As we move forward, there will continue to be an increase in the number of veterans returning to our service area and seeking post-military education. The objective is to continue to offer training to staff and faculty to meet the increased veteran and family member population.”

While the name “Green Zone” refers to a safe and secure place, Munday said it’s more about the people providing support to student veterans rather than a physical location.

“The transition from the military to the academic community can be overwhelming for these soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen as well as their families,” he said. “Our increased awareness of their needs allows us to better provide support and assistance as they begin or continue their journey in college in pursuit of their personal goals and objectives. Often a listening ear can make a tremendous difference.”

Munday cited several reasons for the difficulty some veterans have in easing back into civilian life.

“The primary reason, I believe, is the aloneness felt after having experienced being part of a team committed to mutual trust and to successfully protecting and defending each other in a military unit, whether the unit be on a battlefront or in a peacetime role,” he said. “Additionally, the very structured and disciplined nature of the military organization provides the soldier, sailor, Marine and airman a sense of security and safety knowing that someone has their back. The acclimation of veterans to the college experience can be a challenge for them, which, without a continued service and support system, can lead to decreased interest and motivation to continue and result in a lack of self-confidence and a sense of failure, which is extremely difficult for them to accept.”

The college currently has 89 faculty and staff members across all eight campuses who have completed the training and are certified as Green Zone participants, ready to offer comforting reassurance to the 420 enrolled student veterans and to connect them and their families — another 300-plus enrolled students — with appropriate resources to help them transition into civilian and college life.

The trained Green Zone team members on each campus are identified by a Green Zone emblem outside their office door and/or on their syllabi.

“Faculty and staff members volunteer to attend a two-hour training session designed to create a greater awareness of military culture and the unique challenges of veterans and veteran family members as they reintegrate into the community and either begin or continue their academic journey,” Munday said, noting the initial training sessions began this past July. “The Green Zone team members are presented information which can better aid in identifying the veteran and family members’ psychological and emotional state following traumatic or stressful situations. The training also includes an overview of the emotional cycle of military deployment and the concepts which veterans would want non-veterans to know and understand about their military experience. The training also addresses post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the characteristics associated with these conditions.

“The overall training objective is to better enable each team member to identify needs and to connect the veterans and family members to service and support, both internal and external to the college.”

Outside CTC, these resources include the VA Crisis Line, a 24-hour/seven-day-a-week hotline for veterans; the local state Veteran Affairs field offices; local veterans shelter and food bank organizations; churches and other organizations that cater to veterans; financial coaching; and local family support centers. Internally, the college offers trained counseling, disability services, veteran services and VA educational benefit assistance.
Munday said more Green Zone participants will be trained to serve the growing number of veterans entering the college.

“By the end of this calendar year, we will have 125-plus employees trained,” he said. “The 2016 object is to have 250 total employees trained as Green Zone team members.”

Career Services Specialist Catherine Bovell, who is a Green Zone team member, wants to offer whatever support she can to student veterans and their families.

“Education is following the country’s workforce lead in accommodating alternative schedules that fit our nation’s pursuit of 24/7 availability,” she said. “No one organization needs this accommodation more than our armed services. As a career services specialist, I believe that it is important for education — and the workforce — to address the needs of veterans. A veteran is often met with obstacles in the pursuit of education because the structure and requirements of civilian college life are vastly different from military life, sometimes polar opposites. Through my Green Zone participation, it is my goal to remove as many education barriers as possible for our veterans. The education that we provide at Chattahoochee Technical College can be utilized by our armed forces while they serve and after in civilian life.”   

While team members have had “limited feedback” from veterans so far, they have received “positive comments about the program and its intended purpose to better serve those who have served us or been in a support role of our veterans serving,” Munday said.  

Chattahoochee Tech has joined an ongoing trend that has seen Green Zones popping up at colleges all across the country.

Patricia Ross, director of military affairs for the Technical College System of Georgia, was researching effective veteran support programs when she came across Operation Green Zone at Fayetteville Technical Community College near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

She evaluated the program and its practical applications for technical colleges in Georgia, and now all TCSG campuses have Green Zones.

“As more veterans look to colleges for education and training required to transition to the civilian workplace, it’s important for staff and faculty to understand military culture and some of the challenges in order to help student veterans succeed,” Ross said in a press release.