Home. It was how Jeffrey Newcomb felt the first time he walked into a San Jacinto College veteran center.
The U.S. Navy reservist wanted a degree to fall back on, and a web search led him to San Jac.
"The veteran center is a place for us to be us," he said. "Our language and conversations are a lot different from students who are 18 or 19. We've experienced life in a different way."
After a recent deployment to Iraq, Newcomb returned to the College this fall, where he is pursuing a natural science degree while working in the Central Campus veteran center. He shares what led him to the Navy, how he navigates school and service, and why it's important to honor veterans.
Q: Why did you join the military?
A: I joined the Navy to be a carpenter. One of my motivations is both my grandfathers were in the military. My grandparents had a huge influence on my life. I'm a Christian, and I thought [being a carpenter] would also bring me a little closer to my faith.
I'm part of a much larger community — we are the Navy mobile construction engineers. We get deployed all over the world to support our fellow soldiers in all branches. As an engineering unit, we do everything from keeping a camp running to building hospitals, runways, and providing a better quality of life for our fellow soldiers.
Q: How has San Jac helped you transition back from deployment?
A: When I contacted the educational planners here, they were very supportive and immediately offered me to come back as a work-study student, which got me back into a routine after deployment. Having a good support team here has definitely allowed me to continue to pursue my degree.
Q: What do veteran centers offer?
A: Something I don't think most other students will have ... we know who we're going to speak to. We have dedicated school certifying officials/educational planners who are here to help veterans. We also have dedicated centers at each campus with computers, a lounge, and free coffee.
Veteran center staff not only help us figure out what benefits we're eligible for, but they can help us stay on track with our degree plan. The degree plan outlines the classes you need to take to get a degree, or the VA doesn't pay for those classes.
Q: What is your role as a student worker?
A: My job starts when a veteran walks through the door — whether it's helping them to log into the computer, search for classes, navigate websites and apps like SOS and Blackboard, or access student email. If they want information about any state or federal benefit, we provide the latest info we have.
Q: What advice do you have for others attending school during or after their military service?
A: It goes along with anything else you do in life: You want to make a plan. Make sure you can find classes that work around your schedule or get a job that can work around your classes. Make sure you can give each class enough time so that you can succeed. If you're in class six hours a week, you need 12 hours of study to get that A.
Q: What does it mean to be a veteran?
A: A veteran is anyone who has served in the military. Veterans represent less than 7% of the population. To me, it doesn't matter where they've served, how many years on active duty or reserve status, I would never want someone to feel they're not included in that definition. We all serve as a cohesive unit.
I've done four tours overseas, four deployments, and I'm proud to be called a veteran.
Q: What makes veterans feel most appreciated year-round?
A: Veterans Day is for those who put their lives on the line to defend people we do not know and property that is not ours. It is the sacrifice we all make when we put that uniform on.
We're not really looking for overboard recognition or a pat on the back. As a proud citizen of our great country, I believe I have a duty, and in fact, we all do. If you notice someone who is an active-duty member or a veteran, have a conversation with them and just thank them for their service. By showing veterans some appreciation throughout the year, you would not believe how far that goes.
Did You Know?
San Jacinto College salutes those who have honorably served our country! Approximately 600 veterans and dependents currently attend San Jac using Veterans Affairs GI Bill® and Texas State Hazlewood Act benefits.
Learn More: sanjac.edu/support/veteran-support