From the front lines to the front of the classroom

Photo by Leah Devorak | The Duquesne Duke. Phillip Battle is one of around 300 veterans currently attending Duquesne. Battle is in the process of earning a master’s degree in theology.

Photo by Leah Devorak | The Duquesne Duke. Phillip Battle is one of around 300 veterans currently attending Duquesne. Battle is in the process of earning a master’s degree in theology.

By Julie Pawlikowski | The Duquesne Duke

In a classroom mixed with a sea of college students, ages ranging from 18 to 24, there sits a man in his late 50s. Some might wonder what he is doing here. He is pursuing an academic education on the higher level like the rest of the students, but why now?

For the case of Phillip Battle, it is because he chose to serve his country at the age of 17, forgoing college. Battle has taken advantage of the Veteran and Military Student Service program implemented here at Duquesne University.

Battle, a native of Lima, Ohio, joined the Army at the age of 17 after graduating from high school. He served in the Gulf War, and after nine years of active duty, finished his career in the reserves. Now he is pursuing his master’s degree in theology with the hope of one day teaching at the collegiate level.

Battle was always aware of Duquesne and considered attending it before he ultimately decided to join the Army. But like many students not from the surrounding area, he was unaware that the university was located in Pittsburgh. Rather, work in the military brought him here.

“I was looking for a legal clinic to assist us with the 501(c)3 which is a nonprofit organization, and Duquesne at that time had a legal clinic, and it did actually help us,” he explained. “And that’s when I became more familiar with the campus, traveling back and forth and meeting with different people at the legal clinic. That’s when I decided I wanted to go to Duquesne.”

For those who have conflicting thoughts or doubts about grad school, Battle has advice: Do it.

“I think you should go for your master’s,” he said. “I think you should up it – one because with the situations in our country, we need young people to really take that extra step, go the extra mile.”

The military gives an experience that can’t be found anywhere else, but for Battle, education is what he values the most.

“There are a lot of things you can lose in this life, but your education, your accreditation, is something that is tangible; you can always fall back on it,” he said.

Around 300 veterans and military members are finishing their degrees through the Veteran and Military Student Service program, using their benefits from the GI Bill to continue in their academic endeavors.

Don Accamando, director of the program, helps veterans and military members readjust to college life.

“Duquesne is fortunate to have commitment from administration to help veterans with their transition,” Accamando said. “Making the transition is the most important part and having someone here, a presence on campus is important and part of the process.”

Located on the 7th floor of Liebermann Hall, room 703, the office offers members a lounge where they can study and interact. With veterans in every school on campus, Accamando strives to make sure they have an environment that makes the acclimation to college life easier.

“They’re older and they’re not looking to go to the South Side; they’ve already experienced that kind of stuff,” he said. “And so finding other members like themselves, finding other veterans where they can kind of hang out together and do the kinds of things they’re used to doing, talk about the things they’ve experienced, is very helpful. The real reason we have an office is to … organize the military and veterans in a way that makes them feel like they’re apart of the overall college experience.”

Battle believes that everyone should follow in the footsteps of the Office of Veteran and Military Student Services and give back.

“Once you finish your education, once you have some success in your life, I encourage everybody to give back,” Battle said. “Find a way to give back to the community, find a way to help somebody else achieve what you achieved.”

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