Veteran Sahara Delaughter served in the Marine Corps from 2015 to 2022 as a Military Police (MP) dog handler. She sought out Phoenix College (PC) Veteran Services when she decided to pursue college. Manager Michael Wainscott and Specialist Felicia Kinard support veterans with various services, from help with enrollment to accessing their military benefits. "They've been extremely helpful," Sahara said. Because Michael and Felicia are also veterans, "they know how to explain everything in the special language US military people understand and find out what we need," Sahara added. "If they don't have the answer, they'll look for it."
When Michael was 24 years old, a veteran transitioning out of the Marine Corps and into community college and civilian life, he noticed an emphasis on veteran benefits. Michael had access to a tuition waiver, so he was saving his veteran benefits for university but still needed help with enrollment. When Michael became PC’s Veteran Services Manager, which was a brand new position, he was skilled in how to certify educational benefits with the Veterans Administration (VA), but he was eager to find veterans at PC who did not use educational benefits to let them know Veteran Services was available to support them with filling out scholarship applications or finding a job. Because the military lifestyle is regimented, veterans can also struggle with isolation as a civilian, so PC has a Veteran’s Center on campus–a dedicated space for members of the military to connect.
For Sahara, Veteran Services helped her declare a double major in Sociology and Business, which she didn't know was possible. "They make the college process a lot smoother and easier. It helps to know that there's someone who understands what you're going through and is walking you through it," Sahara said. With a degree in sociology, she hopes to open a nonprofit focusing on foster care children in the system. Sahara volunteered when she was in the Marine Corps, which helped her find her purpose. "My goal is to open a rec center where foster children can learn some of the tools that they may not be getting elsewhere, to help them better facilitate civilian life once they turn 18, especially if they haven't been adopted."
Sahara attends school full-time and works about 30 hours a week. "It's difficult focusing on your priorities and still keeping time for yourself," she said. She recently started playing rugby and wants to be there for her teammates. "It's a balance," she said. "You have to find what works for you and not sacrifice your mental health or your well-being. Everyone's social skills took a dive after the pandemic, so a team sport is a good way to build them back up." For Sahara, deconstructing the military mindset has been an ongoing process. "I was so structured from the military that I was stuck," Sahara said." At first, I didn't understand how to socialize as a civilian. But now my interactions include, 'Hey, how are you?'"
"Creating opportunities for people to bring themselves up from where they are to access higher education gives me the most satisfaction," Michael says. Gene Heppard, former Director of PC's Disability Services and an early mentor to Michael, said something that has stuck with him: Education is the greatest equalizer we have. "When I see veterans wearing their stole at commencement, I feel pride," Michael says. "Not pride in me or my work, but pride as a service member watching another service member accomplish an important milestone." Yet, regardless of where veterans are in their education, Michael enjoys sitting and talking with them most. There's a level of camaraderie that happens when we're talking. Things start clicking, and they're excited because they realize higher ed is attainable and start conceptualizing their academic goals."
That excitement is evident in veteran James Costello, whose whole body is animated discussing his journey to Phoenix College and his classes in American Sign Language. James is a veteran of the Air Force. After eight years of service, he left the military, but continued federal police work at Luke Air Force Base. In 2018, he sustained a traumatic brain injury called cerebral salt wasting after a car accident, which exaggerated all the other injuries he suffered during the military. "I couldn't go outside. I couldn't exercise." Eventually, he recovered but had to change careers. "Both of my kids are deaf. James is eleven and Hope is four. I'm a Christian man, and the Bible says, Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6). I believe God was opening a door for me to be more interactive in my kids' lives, to communicate with them [in a language they understand]." James enrolled in the American Sign Language, Deaf Studies, and Interpreter Preparation program.
With a degree in Criminal Justice from Air Force Community College, James still had no idea what to do next. "The whole college system is brand new to me," James said. He reached out to PC's Veteran Services. "They walked me through it step by step by step. Felicia is like the frontline. Any questions I have, she's first to answer. With his background, Michael knows how to tackle the in-depth stuff." James has had many conversations with Felicia and Michael about transitioning from military to civilian life. "We're all part of the military family, and it's easy to relate to other members who have been through what you've been through," he said.
James is set to graduate from the Deaf Studies Program in Spring 2024, and will continue with the Interpreter Preparation Program (IPP) with an expected graduation date of 2026. He recently attended his stepdaughter Julianne’s graduation from Basic Military Training (BMT) in October. He beamed with pride when he said she joined the Air Force. “She’s following in my footsteps. She’s in military tech school now and will become a cop, just like I was,” James said.
If you are a veteran interested in pursuing your academic goals or a career change, contact Veteran Services for support with accessing your military educational benefits or enrolling in a class or degree program. On Veteran’s Day, and everyday, we thank you for your service!