'College can benefit you:' Reservist an advocate for fellow veterans

By BLAKE STOWERS | Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va. | Published: October 28, 2017

ATHENS, W. Va. (Tribune News Service) — Concord University's Veterans Advocate Steven Kennedy has a love for helping others.

Kennedy, 24, said he encourages veterans to go to college after being in the armed forces. Now a social work major at Concord University, Kennedy is originally from McDowell County. He previously served in the United States Army and is currently in the army reserves.

"Basically what you do as a veterans advocate, you have a veteran certifying official for the school, they certify all the veterans using the veterans GI benefits post 9/11," Kennedy said. "They coordinate veteran related programs on campus. They try to better the campus for veterans. We consult them one on one as far as classes they may be interested in, trying to find a major, things of that nature. It's basically a social worker for veterans."

Kennedy served in the army for four years.

"I did computer information systems and radios and stuff," Kennedy said. "Just anything to do with networking or anything like that. I started out at Fort Benning, Georgia. From there I went to Fort Gordon, and I completed my school. From there I went to South Korea with a military police company. From there I came back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That's where I finished out my contract. Now, I'm in my reserve with the 304 MP out of Bluefield."

Kennedy said he works once a month with the army reserves. "And then two weeks out of the summer; that's about it," Kennedy said. "My main focus really is this: to ensure that the veterans are getting what they need to continue Concord's legacy as a veteran-friendly school."

Kennedy said he had two things that inspired him to work as a Veterans Advocate.

"My love for veterans because I got to see first-hand what service members go through," Kennedy said. "And then two, it's just I love to help people. They tie in together. I have a pretty good understanding of veterans so it benefits me to be in a role such as this. Coming in, I didn't get this job until July of this year. I came to Concord last year."

Kennedy said he wants to help with educational opportunities.

"What makes me want to help with education more than anything is I see how much transitioning from the military to civilian life and then going to college can benefit you," Kennedy said. "I think all of our service members should really focus on that for their future. That's kind of the gist of what makes me love my job."

Kennedy said when a person first transitioning from civilian to military life, they don't really think about the change.

"Because you're going from a relaxed environment to a more structured environment of life," Kennedy said. "So then you go into the military and you forget the civilian side of life when you're in the military. They feed you, they clothe you, they house you. It's kind of like going into a sheltered environment. And then you come back and you get ready to transition and you think, I'm going to have pay rent, buy groceries -- basically it's learning to walk again. I think the biggest struggle for transitioning service members is that they think they have to go straight into a job."

Kennedy said going to college is a great opportunity for service members.

"Seeing now, transitioning was hard in the beginning because you're used to such a set lifestyle and you come out and you're free again," Kennedy said. "You can do as you please. I think that's one of the things that leads to service members not succeeding in life after they come out of the military. It's like when you're a teenager and you live with your parents. And then you turn 18 and you go do whatever you want. You kind of have a wild spirit. So I think that's one of the leading causes that makes veterans suffer in their transitions."

Kennedy said being in the military looks great on a resume.

"You're already one up. Then if you go to college, you have all those credits from military time," Kennedy said. "They transfer into college."

Kennedy said his family has a military history.

"On my mom's side of the family, there is a lot of military history," Kennedy said. "We've had people all the way back to WWII maybe even WWI. Military service never really crossed my mind through middle school and high school. I graduated high school and went to work at a sawmill. I didn't go to college. I was just waking up every morning and going to work at this sawmill and I felt like there was no purpose to it. I felt like I was doing no good for anybody. I knew I was just tearing down my body."

Kennedy said he thought the military was something he might like. "I spoke with a recruiter in Beckley, and he got me set up," Kennedy said. "That was the fall of 2011. The fall of 2012 I was shipped off to basic training. For the first few weeks, I hated it. I stuck it out, and I'm glad I did. I will say (to) anyone reading this, or anyone that's a younger adult, the military was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Because now I go to college for free; I have a great job -- probably the best job I'll ever have in my life."


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