Veterans at SMC

SMC is home to a variety of students from different backgrounds, each with a unique story to tell. Of the 30,000 students attending this campus, 300-500 have served our country and are now considered veterans.

Octavio Reyes is proud to call himself a veteran of the Marines. Reyes started SMC two years ago after serving in the Marines for six years, straight out of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank, Calif.

"I knew I was going into the military after high school. I signed my name on a list and they called me," he said.

Reyes served in Japan, Afghanistan and Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif. during four years of active duty as a Field Radio Operator for the Marines. Reyes then chose to come to SMC to pursue a degree in Psychology.

After enrolling in SMC's Counseling 20 course, Reyes met SMC alumni and fellow veteran, Francisco Cortez. Together, Cortez, Reyes, and other veterans reinvigorated the inactive SMC Veteran's Club.

Their goal was to connect with fellow veterans and students aspiring to serve the country, and provide them with the information and help they needed. Cortez ended up doing just that, serving as the Veteran's Club president from winter session of 2007 until he graduated last spring.

The first veteran Cortez met at SMC was Mike Washum. "As he passed by me he saw my haircut and the way I walked and he said, 'You were in the military, weren't you?'" recalls Cortez.

Washum joined the Veteran's Club, but eventually returned to serve in the military.

Daniel Anderson, current Veteran's Club president, is more than grateful for Cortez and Reyes' efforts. Out of all veterans attending SMC, only 14 are active members of the club.

Anderson hopes to get the club new printers, computers and other resources the members can use for school and work, all of which would be readily available in the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) located in the Liberal Arts Building. Linda Sinclair and Elaine Morton serve as the advisors of the Veteran's Club and work in the VRC. They are currently working on getting speakers to come to the club on a regular basis.

The VRC provides study groups, the lending library and a safe hangout space for veterans dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety or other disabilities due to their service. Sinclair is also in collaboration with other Veteran centers such as the Culver City Veterans Center, as well as the Veterans Administration for resources that SMC may be lacking.

"SMC only has two psychologists for over 3,000 students. We work with the Culver City location when a veteran may need immediate assistance that we can't provide," said Sinclair.

Since its inception, the club has been making care-packages to send to troops in Iraq. These packages include everything from books and DVDs, to personal hygiene accessories and letters of thank you to the troops.

Veterans can receive priority enrollment through the VRC as well as special counseling to guide them towards the classes covered by their GI Bill.

Anderson, still in inactive duty with the Army, believes one of the biggest obstacles any veteran has to face after leaving the service is reconnecting with people from what Anderson calls "the outside world."

"After serving in the Army with the same group of men for five years, it's hard to come back to school and socialize with new people. I was closed-off and defensive at first, but the Veteran's Club is a really great place to get back into civilian life," said Anderson.

Anderson is looking to major in theater or film and hopes to transfer to UCLA, USC or CSUN after graduating SMC. Specifically, he wants to try lighting design as a way into cinematography, which interests him the most.

Cortez was a C average student in high school, but graduated from SMC with a 4.0 GPA and is now attending USC School of Cinematic Arts for directing. "I wasn't really focused on school in high school, but my service definitely taught me discipline," he said.

The Veterans club accepts any students (not just veterans) who wish to join. The club meets in the Veteran's Resource Center across from room 136 in the Liberal Arts Building.

A workshop will be held on April 27 at 11 a.m. in Liberal Arts 136 for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.