SDSU student veterans have an organization of their own


The SDSU Armed Forces Association is seeking to help veterans feel more at home.

Transitioning to college is hard for anyone, but student veterans face special difficulties. Because of post-traumatic stress, problems with bureaucracy, and the isolation that comes from living off-campus, veterans can have a hard time finding help. At SDSU, however, they have a way to connect.

The Armed Forces Association, a group that meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month in the basement of Sully’s Irish Pub, is open to all of the nearly 700 student veterans at SDSU. According to AFA President Tim Hanna, the association started with just six members, but in the fall semester that number has more than doubled.

“It’s a great group—a fun group of people,” said Kristin Carlisle, an academic advisor at SDSU. “There’s so many more vets on campus who could benefit from the connections and the resources [that the AFA offers].”

Carlisle said the AFA reaches out to veterans on campus in order to get them the information they need. Historically, the process of getting information to all veterans on campus has been problematic. There is currently no way to email veteran students as a group, but Hanna said this may change.

“Now SDSU is collecting demographic data [on veterans], thanks to the club (the AFA),” he said. “That’s why it’s important that we doubled in size despite our small membership.”

The AFA provides a place for veterans to share their experiences and ease into college with people who have similar life experiences.

“When you’re [in combat], everything is ‘Go go go,’ fire fights, this huge adrenaline rush,” said psychology major Danny McLaughlin, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan for the Army National Guard. “And then [here] you go to class.”

Drawing from her professional experience, Carlisle agreed.

“At a workshop I went to, some vets talked about how they’d go to class,” Carlisle said. “Maybe they would write notes feverishly, but maybe they wouldn’t know what their professor said or what they wrote, because somebody dropped a book or made a loud noise, or because somebody sat behind them. They’re trained to protect.”

Andy Ellis, faculty advisor to the SDSU Armed Forces Association, noted the differences between student veterans and other students.

“The responsibilities that you’ve experienced when you come off of active duty in the military have almost nothing in common with the responsibilities of most college students,” Ellis said. “Veterans are removed [from other students] in years. They also have a respect for authority—the instructor or professor. … Talking in class, texting—these are things that are not allowed in the military. It’s a hard transition [from military service to collegiate life].”

But Ellis noted that veterans have a bond with one another that other students do not.

“People who have been in the Armed Forces have more in common than most people who have never joined,” he said.

“The AFA has a lot to offer the student body,” Carlisle added, “whether veterans or not. They are a mature group of people who have had life experiences that you and I have never had. Do all vets need the support system? Maybe not. But if they can choose whether or not to do it, should they? Absolutely.”

As the awareness of student veteran  needs grows, SDSU veterans hope to add a Veteran’s Resource Center to campus.

“The Veterans Resource Center would be a one-stop shop for any incoming vet to take care of GI Bill issues and get a map for where they need to go,” Ellis said.

The AFA has gone to Students’ Association meetings to lobby for the Veterans Resource Center and request space.

“Preferably it would be in the Student Union or some place where all students go, whether they’re veterans or in the Armed Forces or not,” said Ellis. “We want SDSU to provide us with a place to welcome all our brothers and sisters in the military. The university wins, the soldier wins, we as an association win.”

Carlisle said she suspects having a Veteran’s Resource Center would benefit campus in a number of ways.

“[The veterans] would love to see a vets service center that has everything they really need for everything important to them,” added Carlisle. “People who know the GI bill and can help them, people with post traumatic stress issues, counseling services. [Those are] hard for anybody to ask for, but especially for a veteran to ask for, because they’re taught to be strong.”

She added that, “I would like to see a more outward, supportive attitude toward vets—students, faculty, staff that have served in the armed forces. I think it’s there but it’s underwater. I would love to see the vets have a voice in the services that they want to see.”