Guam Community College: A special place for veterans
It may seem unusual to describe an institution as having a heart, but veterans hold a special place in the heart of Guam Community College. That’s because, according to StateMaster.com, Guam has the highest enlistment rate, per capita, of any U.S. state or territory. Husbands, sons, nephews, wives, daughters, nieces and cousins of many employees are veterans or actively serving in the military. Over nine percent of the students at GCC are using veterans’ benefits. According to Esther Rios, GCC Financial Aid coordinator, some veterans choose not to use their benefits or identify themselves as veterans, so the college knows that the percentage of veteran students probably reaches even higher.
Because people at GCC know the names behind many of these veteran “numbers,” the College goes the extra mile to help its veteran students. Ben Rachielug, a U.S. Navy veteran, assists veteran students with their paperwork in GCC’s Financial Aid Office.
“I know that they know that I understand the language, what they’ve been through. There’s a connection there,” said Rachielug. “Also, Esther and Vivian (Guerrero, a Financial Aid program coordinator) are both dependents of veterans, so they understand veterans’ needs more than someone who is not connected to veterans in any way,” he noted.
GCC has twice – in 2014 and 2015 – been designated as “Best for Vets” by MilitaryTimes.com. The College has a Veterans Club, and veteran students even have a place of their own – a lounge/study room where they can gather and feel at home with others who know and have seen things known only to veterans of war.
“As a returning home combat disabled veteran with multiple tours in Iraq and with multiple disabilities, it is the transitioning from the battlefield to the classroom that often leaves veterans without the familiar camaraderie to which they have grown accustomed,” said Rodney Cruz Jr., president of the Veterans Club.
“Asking veterans to simply “blend in” is not optimal,” Cruz added. “Some veteran students feel that ‘civilians don’t understand me.’ Reintegration into civilian life takes time and can be most successful when coupled with the opportunity to interact with other veterans experiencing similar situations. Offering a ‘safe’ space provides a supportive climate whereby student veterans can meet, reflect, learn and participate in activities beyond the classroom. It is a win-win for the college,” he said.
When GCC officially opened the Veterans’ Lounge/Study Room on September 11, 2015, in Room 6111 of the GCC Foundation Building, it contained tables, chairs and bookshelves donated by the local company M80 Office Systems. Mike Ady, M80 president, is a Vietnam veteran. Today, the lounge has taken on the air of someone’s family room. A comfy sofa has been added. On the bookshelves sit a coffee maker, a popcorn machine, snacks, and other food items brought in by veteran students.
Even Dr. Mary Okada, GCC’s president, has close ties to a veteran. Her husband, LTC (Ret.) David S. Okada is a 9-11 Pentagon survivor. In fact, Mr. Okada was the guest speaker for the opening of the Veterans Lounge back in 2015.
“Because of our close ties to the veteran community, at GCC, we want to help our growing number of veteran students to be as successful in their civilian careers as they were in the military. We are here to help,” said Dr. Okada. She noted that this help extends to veterans’ dependents, too.
If you are interested in taking classes at Guam Community College, register now through August 10 for fall semester 2016. Classes start August 17. Log onto www.guamcc.edu for the course schedule and other information.