Ask a Vet: Marine Corps Veteran and DU Student Shares His Journey

Happy Monday Pios! We are very excited to highlight the military and university experiences of master’s student Conner Swett. Conner is a first year master’s student in the International Security program at the Korbel School of International Studies. His research focus is on international development and security. He’ll be presenting on the Ask A Veteran Anything panel tomorrow at 12, but we wanted to get things started a little early and give you a sneak peak!

How long were you on active duty? I served in the Marine Corps for 9 years and 3 months, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Where did you serve? I was lucky to have served on 5 major continents including a position in the U.S. at the Pentagon! Here’s a breakdown of my travels:

  • Okinawa, Japan 2008 – 2009
  • Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard
    • Pretoria South Africa 2010 – 2011
    • Asuncion, Paraguay 2011 – 2012
    • Moscow, Russia 2012-2013
  • Office of the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters Marine Corps, The Pentagon 2013 – 2016

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? I would say dropping everything and moving across to the country to attend graduate school was one of the hardest parts. I came to DU with a lot of unknowns. Once I was accepted I immediately put my stuff in storage, packed my car up, and attempted to drive from Washington to DC to Denver. Unfortunately, my car broke down on the way and I ended up taking a train and just barely made the first day of school this past winter quarter!

Another difficult aspect of transitioning to university life was not having the support staff that I had gotten so used to. I had become so comfortable with having offices for events in the area, financial/education, admin to help me with my pay, and a legal office to provide me free legal services. Oh and the lack of insurance and figuring that out. That was something I never had to think of before. (I am still pumped that I get gym access!)

What brought you to DU? I lived in South Africa for a year and fell in love with the area. Over the years, I have read more about the continent to stay aware of the political events, history, cultures of the individual countries. Those aspects instilled me with the desire to focus on international development that region. Korbel’s program International Security seemed like a perfect fit for that. Right now I’m taking my first development class this quarter and those I have met in the class have been amazing and have kept my interest in development going strong.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life?

  1. Reach out to the SVA. The SVA staff and members have gone through the same stuff you have and will have some advice. It also gives you a place to socialize with other veterans and you can discuss (or vent) on your transition and student life.
  2. Get involved with a club or group. Leaving the military can seem lonely and you can feel like there’s a lack of direction. You were a Marine, a soldier, or a sailor, that was who were and it can be a shock that that’s not you anymore. I was warned about it, but it wasn’t until a few months later that it hit me. Joining a club or group or getting involved in the community of the school is a great way to find that new role and mission to help out.
  3. Meet new people but don’t jump in with talking about the military. Sounds strange but it’s comparable to going to college and talking all about high school or going to a new unit and only talking about your past unit. It’s hard for other people to relate and build a connection with you and that’s what university life is about, meeting new people and expanding your perceptions. I found that I had a lot in common with people once I stopped talking solely about my Marine Corps life all the time, which really helped me adjust to my new life. Let’s be clear, I’m not ashamed or hiding that I’m Marine, I just don’t go waving it around.

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday! (Also, there will be free lunch from Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill!)