Student veterans at Eastern Michigan University can now receive advice and counseling from a retired Army officer with more than 20 years of military experience.
Michael Wise was hired as the new assistant director of veteran services, and he began work Monday, Sept. 29. He has previously worked on campus including three years as the commander of the ROTC program at EMU.
Wise said he wants to make EMU a welcoming environment for those returning to school after serving their country.
“They should feel valued and accepted. They should feel at home,” Wise said. “What they did for our country is important. Besides just certifying classes and helping with benefits, we should counsel, advise and celebrate their service throughout the school year.”
The student veteran services office assists with enrollment of classes and has resources to help prior service members with resume writing, job fair opportunities and keeping good grades.
“I’ve walked that walk, I’ve helped soldiers along the way with my role as an officer,” Wise said.
Wise reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army and was deployed numerous times including a tour in Iraq in 2006. He was in the signal corps, but Wise said he held many different billets as an officer.
The assistant director’s position became available after Anne McKee retired, and she echoed the sentiment that having an actual veteran in the student veteran services office, 401 Pierce Hall, will be beneficial for EMU scholars who have served their country.
“He won’t only bring the military leadership, but he also seems like a warm and caring individual,” McKee said. “The ROTC cadets had a lot of respect for Colonel Wise.”
McKee worked for a year and a half in the veteran service office, but she was originally a lecturer in the communications department. She has also worked in the learning center and admissions office. McKee’s retirement began earlier this year, and she said working with veterans was the most rewarding time during her years at EMU.
“They are so appreciative of the help, and they want to help other veterans as well,” McKee said.
Sean Stevens, EMU senior and communications major, served five years in the Army as a recovery vehicle operator and mechanic, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He worked in the student veterans service office and was president of Student Veterans of America during the last academic year. He said Wise is a good fit for the position, but McKee will be missed by many students at EMU.
“I haven’t seen him since he took the job, but Colonel Wise is really cool,” Stevens said. “Everybody liked and trusted Anne, she was always really approachable.”
Stevens said McKee was very supportive after a fellow soldier from his squad, who was a very close friend and had been on numerous missions with him, committed suicide after struggling with PTSD.
“When I was working up there, I would talk to her about stuff that was going on, and she always had an open door policy,” Stevens said. “If people were having rough times she would listen to them and try to help them any way she could…She helped me and put me in the right direction during that whole time.”
McKee and Wise mentioned the need for veteran interaction at EMU, and there appears to be support for more group activities among the military community on campus.
Bill Wieger, a veteran and former EMU student, said those who served in the military need help in unique ways, and building comradery on campus would be very beneficial for veterans.
“When I went here before, I didn’t have anyone to really talk to,” Wieger said. “That would have helped me out a lot.”
Wieger said there are multiple obstacles for veterans transitioning back to school and civilian life and he’s witnessed many struggle with alcoholism, pain pill addiction, depression and PTSD. These are serious challenges facing many in the veteran community, and they can hinder academic performance.
“I’m not saying everyone has PTSD, but PTSD affects everyone differently,” Wieger said. “It definitely affects my attention span and ability to study.”
Wieger served in the Marines from 1991-95 and deployed twice during his enlistment. He operated amphibious assault vehicles and saw combat in Mogadishu, Somalia in January 1993. Wieger said interacting with other veterans can be therapeutic.
“To explain it to someone that has never been in our shoes, it’s hard to relate,” Wieger said. “When you come back to school there’s an obvious age difference, but a lot of veterans don’t realize they’ve changed. From a mental standpoint, I think we’ve changed.”