The image of a veteran can too easily be stereotyped as an older man in his 80s, holding a flag in a Veterans Day parade, proudly showing his medals from Vietnam or Korea or maybe even World War II. But for the generation currently at Kansas, the face of a war veteran is changing.
Take Katherine Robinson for example. Robinson, a non-traditional senior from Coburn, Va., enrolled at the University at 24 years old after serving in the Army for 14 months in Iraq.
Veterans Day, for Robinson, is exciting to celebrate because the memories of her service are not so far behind her.
Joining the military
Robinson describes herself as a girly girl. At first, she had a hard time adjusting to using only bar soap in the shower and no longer having privacy, but joining the Army was not about the lifestyle. It was about supporting her beliefs.
"I really wanted to serve," Robinson said. "I was really supportive of what we were doing over there and I felt like if I was going to vote for it, I needed to be a part of it."
Robinson left college to enlist, and once she was in the Army, she never looked back. She is an intelligence analyst for the Army, so deployment was the only way she could practice what she was trained to do.
The challenges of military life
After basic training, Robinson moved on to Advanced Individual Training, a 12-week session that trains soldiers for their specific jobs. During this training, she met her future husband, Jake.
Because this wasn't basic training and the soldiers had more free time, it wasn't a big deal for Robinson to date another soldier. However, the challenges of falling in love on a military base did make dating difficult.
The two couldn't hang out in each others rooms and they were often surrounded by the other soldiers, so it was hard to find time to spend with just each other. But despite the lack of privacy, the two didn't mind the situation.
"It felt normal," Robinson said. "Because I guess, at that point, I was so used to being with everyone all the time."
Being away from her husband for the first three years of their marriage presented Robinson with a personal challenge while she served in Iraq. Although Robinson spent only 14 months in Iraq, once she returned, her husband immediately left to serve, making the situation even harder.
Returning from war
While adapting to the drastic lifestyle of the Army and going so long without seeing her husband was difficult, it was also hard for Robinson to adjust back to civilian life. After 15-hour days and complete structure, Robinson struggled to throw herself into college life at the University.
"Here I was, 24 years old and I've had all this responsibility, and all of a sudden I was a student again," Robinson said. "School is a responsibility, but it's not the same as making a decision that will drastically change someone's life."
Jake, a senior from Oberlin, dealt with the same struggles. Being around college students who did not go through the same experience as Jake often bothered him.
"You just get frustrated when people complain about things you don't complain about," Jake said. "You were in a situation that is life or death and then you come back and someone's complaining about whether they can afford some shoes they want."
A veteran at Kansas
Although not everyone at the University can empathize with Robinson and Jake's past, the two said the veteran support at the University is strong. Jake is vice president of the Collegiate Veteran's Association (CVA), a group that organizes social events and advocates for students who served in the military. Jake said one project the group is currently working on is to get in-state tuition for veterans.
In addition to the work they do for veterans, Jake said CVA also provides him with a strong support system.
"It's good they have the same experiences as you," Jake said. "We probably spend half our time talking about being in the military or our deployment."
Even though adjusting back to everyday life challenged Robinson, she said her experience in the military helped prepare her for it.
"It really helped me confidence-wise," Robinson said. "When I was in school before, I was really, really shy and really nervous about everything. I would have never joined something like CVA before. It really helped me not be afraid to take chances and to know I can be in leadership positions if I need to and it's not a big deal."