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A valuable resource for veterans

November 9, 2013
By Jim Tate - SMSU , Marshall Independent

Did you know that there are seven GI Bills? Each is different, and pertains to service members' military experience and situations.

Helping veterans maneuver through the appropriate GI Bill while acclimating to civilian life in an academic setting is part of the job of Justin Guggisberg, the veterans service coordinator at the SMSU Veterans Resource Center.

SMSU has had a Veterans Resource Center for seven years.

"It's moved around a bit. We moved into our current location (in the Social Science building) in 2009. We doubled our size last year," said Guggisberg, who has been at SMSU for two years.

The Veterans Resource Center is two rooms, side by side. One is lounge/social room, the other is where Guggisberg and his student employees have their offices and resource center.

"The clubroom is more relaxed. It has a couch, chairs, tables, computers and microwave," he said.

Guggisberg was in the Air Force for six years before he became a member of the Air Force Reserve. He's is a technical sergeant with the 934th Air Force Reserve unit based in Minneapolis. He's been with them for six years. During his military career, he's had two major deployments.

"Our main focus at SMSU is to provide assistance with the educational benefits, help with enrollment and advocate for a friendly veteran atmosphere on campus," he said.

SMSU has approximately 140 veterans and reservists attending the university, said Guggisberg, and he's one of them. He received a two-year associate's degree from the Community College of the Air Force, and is roughly 15 credits short of a justice administration degree from SMSU.

"There's a broad range of services here," said Guggisberg. "Our veterans use the different GI Bills, federal tuition assistance and state tuition reimbursements. Some aren't using anything at all."

SMSU was named a 2014 Military Friendly School, putting it in the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are doing the most to embrace America's military service members, veterans and spouses as students to ensure their success on campus.

"I think we are military friendly," said Guggisberg. "Having the Veterans Resource Center really helps. It's a place for them to come and unwind, not worry about things, a place where they can use all the acronyms (that are a part of the military language). It's a good buffer zone - people can talk about classes, help each other and talk about things."

A casual talk between veterans revealed that SMSU parking permits for veterans are paid for, said Guggisberg. And that veterans can stop into the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce for a free ticket to Monday's Taste of Marshall, hosted by SMSU.

The lounge area is also a place where wives, children, siblings and significant others can come and hang out with their veterans, he said.

Adjusting from military life to an academic setting can be challenging for veterans, said Guggisberg.

"If it's a long break, then they have to get adjusted to good study habits and good routines, and that can take time. They also have to adjust to a new social climate," he said.

Guggisberg is a Wabasso native and the father of four children: Lillian, 7; twins Hayden and Abigail, 5; and Bradley, 4. His is a busy household. He joined the military "to travel the world, get experience and get my education paid for," he said. "Out of that, I have grown to love the structure and the appreciation for what I do. I found a place of leadership there that I enjoyed, and they seem to want to have me stick around."

Guggisberg is not a recruiter.

"I'll send someone interested to a recruiting station. That's not what we do," he said. "When someone comes here for help, I'll ask them where they've been and what they've done, and we can narrow it down from there, and then talk specifically."

Guggisberg is aware that most of the country was not in favor of the Iraq and Iran wars.

"But people did not chastise the troops. We came back prepared to be spit on - it was sold as our Vietnam - but that was not the case," he said.

He shakes his head when he talks about the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home.

"No one had seen a war like that on TV before. Korea was the first televised war, but Vietnam had combat cameras," he said.

The university community "has welcomed me with open arms since I started here," he said. "They know me and what our office does, and they've been very supportive."

He'll be in Worthington on Monday - Veterans Day - speaking at a program.

"I speak on Memorial Day a lot," he said, explaining that someone in Worthington was short-staffed, and needed help.

As is his nature, Guggisberg said he'd help.

To contact the Veterans Resource Center, call 507-537-7213.



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