Casey Borch, Ph.D., likens his time in the military much to living at home with his parents.
He never had to wash his clothes. Meals were cooked for him. He was told when to get up and when to go bed.
|Sociology Professor Casey Borch (left) is the advisor of the new UAB Student Veterans of America organization. UAB student Mike Rudulph (center) is the organization’s president, and Neil Rafferty is the vice president.
“The military is a very sheltered environment in many respects,” says Borch, assistant professor of sociology. “I had no restrictions for the first time in my life when I started college at age 22, and I took advantage of that to excess. I ended up on academic probation, and the college I was attending froze my account and said I couldn’t come back until I got myself together.”
Borch, a Navy veteran of the first Gulf War, was able to turn his academic career around, defying the odds that are stacked against many of today’s returning military members. Only 6 percent of today’s Iraq-era war veterans will graduate college, according to a study by Cleveland State University.
Borch is the academic advisor of the new UAB Student Veterans of America organization, the first student-veteran organization in Alabama recognized by the national Student Veterans of America organization. The group is committed to providing peer-to-peer networks for veterans, coordinating campus activities, providing pre-professional networking and generally providing a touchstone for student-veterans.
“I remember what it was like coming back home and starting college in 1991, and it was a very difficult transition for me,” Borch says. “I’m not ashamed of the struggles I had at all because I think many people go through exactly what I went through. To some extent I think a story like mine gives hope to people who are having a hard time. It lets them know they’re not ignorant; they’re not failures. They’re just confused.”
From college to war
Mike Rudulph was one of those lost in a bubble of confusion. Rudulph, a 1999 Mountain Brook graduate, already was a struggling student at Millsaps College when he joined the Marines in December 2000.
He joined because he felt a need to prove to himself he could do it.
“There wasn’t an ounce of patriotism in my body when I joined the Marines,” says Rudulph, now a senior sociology major and president of the UAB Student Veterans of America organization.
“It was just something I needed to do. Every kid has little fantasies; mine was to be a Marine.”
Then 9/11 happened, and Rudulph was forced to mature quickly. He was in Iraq for the invasion and saw combat for six months.
Rudulph had enrolled at Texas Tech Uni-versity prior to his deployment and posted a strong 3.0 grade point average. But when he returned from his first tour, his grades plummeted.
“I was so fixed on Iraq, the mission and my friends,” Rudulph says. “It was killing me to hear how much more violent it was getting.”
He moved back home to Birmingham at the urging of his mother in spring 2004. Soon thereafter the Bessemer Marine unit asked Rudulph if he wanted to deploy. He quickly volunteered to go back.
“I was missing it,” he says, “and my fix was to get myself back into that life.”
After his second tour in Iraq, Rudulph spent three months in Louisiana as part of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts before being deployed to Djibouti, Africa, as force protection for the American base there. Rudulph was discharged in February 2008, shortly after returning from Africa.
Borch says Rudulph’s feelings and the need to get back into the military life are normal for many soldiers — especially those coming to college.
“It’s just so different,” Borch says. “And you feel helpless, and I don’t want those who were in the military that now are students on our campus to feel that way. Just because they don’t understand the academic system doesn’t mean they’re not smart. And it’s very easy to say, ‘Well, I’m cut out for this kind of life and not that kind of life.’ That just not right, and it’s just not true. It’s just a different life, and the transition from one to the other could be made easier. A group like ours, that’s our primary goal, to help people who come here to succeed.”
Helping fellow veterans
Scarred by war, Rudulph knew he needed help returning to civilian life. It was then he found Vets4Vets, a non-partisan veterans organization dedicated to helping returning Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans adjust back to civilian life. The group’s primary goal is to help these veterans understand the value of peer support and to use it regularly to express their emotions, manage their challenges and ease their reintegration into society.
“It wasn’t until I started surrounding myself with veterans that I started growing out of that funk,” Rudulph says. “All of a sudden I wasn’t going through that transition by myself. I was going through it with many other people around me, and we were there to help each other.”
Rudulph has now dedicated his life to helping his fellow veterans returning from war. He has started his own non-profit Alabama Veteran’s Initiative as a resource to aid area veterans. And he was the one to approach Borch about starting the student-veterans group on campus.
“I began going through my experiences when he came to me and told me some of the things he wanted to do,” Borch says. “I could relate to what he had in mind.”
Rudulph says he is grateful Borch agreed to advise the UAB Student Veterans of America.
“He was the person I wanted to do it,” Rudulph says. “We’ve done a lot of talking, and he’s been very interested in my career, since he’s a veteran himself. He’s known about my involvement with Vets4Vets and the traumatic issues I’ve dealt with. He’s a great man and a great veteran, and I’m very excited he’s on board with us.”
“We know the need for a group like this is out there, and people are looking for programs like this,” Rudulph says. “We want to do all we can to support our students and give them the help they need so they can be successful.”
To learn more about UAB Student Veterans of America, contact Borch at email@example.com or Rudulph at Mike@vets4vets.us.