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Learning from Veterans

University trustees learned how Carolina is working with the U.S. Military and the service members who represent it during their meeting on November 20, 2014.

Army veteran Jacob Hinton served two combat tours in Afghanistan as a member of the 82nd Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.

Members of the 82nd have long prided themselves as the tip of the spear of U.S. military strength. Within hours of receiving orders, they can be jumping out of a plane – directly into combat – anywhere in the world.

Hinton served five years with the corps, including 28 months overseas. His job in Afghanistan was as a forward observer with the infantry; during battle, he called in air strikes and mortar support to destroy enemy threats.

Since coming to Carolina as a transfer student from Wake Technical Community College in 2013, Hinton has done a different kind of forward observing: He has helped University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill administrators identify ways to help fellow veterans survive the sometimes-bumpy transition to college.

“When I transferred here I found myself lost,” said Hinton, now a senior majoring in peace, war and defense in the College of Arts and Sciences. “There wasn’t a lot of connection with other veterans. There wasn’t a lot of connection with faculty or staff who were familiar with veterans, either.”

Hinton was one of three speakers who shared their stories with the Board of Trustees on Nov. 20. All three were former or future members of the U.S. Army with a connection to Carolina.

Together, they represented a continuum of both service and needs – from an Army ROTC cadet learning how to be a leader, to a combat veteran adjusting to the rigors of academic life, to a retired general charged with developing executive leadership skills in general officers with help from a Kenan-Flagler Business School program.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean Jr., said each story also reflected a facet of Carolina’s ongoing commitment to support active-duty military and veterans, and to forge deeper relationships with the military.

Hinton’s story highlighted areas Carolina has been working to improve.

This summer, for instance, information for military veterans was included in an orientation session for incoming transfer students, Dean said.

Another new collaboration is the Warrior Scholar Project that serves as a unique bridge for veterans by immersing them in an intensive program of reading and writing to prepare them for coursework, Dean said.

A new Veterans Resource Team creates a network of staff who can serve as points of contact in various units for student veterans. And in January, the Green Zone Training Program was formed to educate faculty and staff on issues facing veterans, including sensitive topics of discussion that may arise in the classroom. Since the program’s inception, more than 150 staff and faculty members have completed training.

Veterans Resource Team member Brian Papajcik, assistant dean of students in Student Affairs, said there currently are more than 400 students enrolled on campus who are using educational benefits from the GI Bill. Roughly half of them are veterans, the other half are military dependents who are eligible to use the benefits.

This semester, 27 transfer students are either veterans or active-duty military.

Many of the new programs were formed in direct response to problems that Hinton brought to administrators’ attention as the president of the student-run Carolina Veterans Organization, Dean said.

“We are only now really coming to terms with the profound needs that these returning veterans have,” Dean said. “While I’m proud of what we’ve done, I think we have a long way to go.”

Dean explained that Hinton was asked to present to the trustees because of his sincerity. “We knew he was going to push for more and that’s fine because we’re with him on that,” Dean said. “He’s our guy and we are trying to learn from him.

“He clearly models the kind of leadership that you develop in the military.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Jim Campbell described to trustees his work as a senior adviser to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, and how that work has a Carolina connection through the leadership programs Kenan-Flagler offers at the Rizzo Conference Center.

Since May, Campbell said, he has been in charge of development of the general officers who are at the top of the Army’s ranking structure. The program at the Rizzo Center, he said, served as a vital part of the process of developing strategic leadership and management skills for officers who have been generals for 12 to 18 months.

These are men and women, Campbell explained, “who have been fighting for our country in counterinsurgency warfare” for the past decade and who will be called upon to run an organization as big and complex as the U.S. Army.

He commended Carolina faculty members for their efforts and commitment. “Not only do they know their business and are able to communicate it, but they care,” Campbell said. “And when they look in the eyes of those young general officers and say ‘thank you,’ the general officers feel it.”

Army ROTC cadet Lauren Stephenson, now a senior at Carolina, offered a glimpse of Army life at the other end of the continuum as she recounted the demands of a daily routine that balances physical training and military teambuilding with her academic courses.

Stephenson was one of 11 cadets who trained for, and participated in, last month’s rigorous Ranger Challenge in which Carolina competed against 39 other universities.

After listening to Stephenson explain the demands of her daily regimen, much of which is focused on leadership development, Chancellor Carol L. Folt asked the young woman whether she thought leaders were born or made.

Stephenson said she had thought hard about that question, especially as a shy, quiet student in high school who dreamed of serving her country as a military officer and who, by definition, must know how to lead.

Too often, Stephenson said, leadership is thought to be the domain of people who are by nature strong and tough, or loud. But through her ROTC training, she saw a different vision of leadership that includes setting goals and inspiring others to join with you.

In that effort, she said, getting to know people at a personal level is more valuable than attempts to intimidate or cajole. Get to know a person’s name, Stephenson explained. Get to know what motivates and inspires them, and the qualities they have that make them special.

Learn all those things, she said, and you can begin to think of yourself as a leader.

When Folt asked Campbell if he wanted to respond to the same question, he demurred.

“There is no way I can top that,” he said.

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