Ask a Vet: US Army Vet Reflects on His Transition to University Life at DU

So much goes into the transition from active duty to civilian life for a veteran, especially when it comes to integration into a university. This Tuesday, 10 student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life at DUSVA’s Ask a Veteran Anything event. We hope you’ll be able to join DU faculty, staff, students and alums as they ask DU veteran students about their varied perspectives. Today we’re excited to highlight one of those student veterans, Dan Rouse. Dan Rouse is a graduate student enrolled in Daniels College of Business’ Executive MBA Program (EMBA).

How long were you on active duty? My total service in the U.S. Army comprised 27 years. I served 23 years as an officer, and 4 years as an enlisted soldier.

Dan in Tibet

Where did you serve? I guess all over is too broad, but I did cover some serious distance whilst serving in 5 of the 10 Army divisions. After Ranger School, I started out in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. Next was the 101st Airborne in Kentucky. Following that I went back to Hawaii and did three years of POW/MIA investigations and recoveries. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) kicked off and I did a year there. Then I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for a year at the Command and Staff College, before stationing at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the 1st Cavalry Division/1st Armored Division and followed by15 months in Iraq. Finally, I went back to Hawaii for 3 years of POW/MIA missions and then retired from the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overall I’ve worked in the United States, Australia, New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates!

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Actually, two things come to mind. The first, and most significant, was the loss of purpose. No matter “the suck,” when you’re in the military, you always had a sense of duty to a higher cause, whether it was to your comrades, your unit, or the basic oath to “Defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic.” You were a part of a distinct culture with its own values and norms. So the cultural dislocation was huge. You live your life as a member of it, but end as an employee moving on. It’s hard to get that same feeling from turning a profit, etc.

The second, for me anyway, was finding my next career. I did my time and could have had all the “security” t-shirts I wanted, but I had no desire to be a government contractor/beltway bandit or get a government job. When you put those restrictions on future choices, the prospects dim a little. As one recruiter candidly put it, “I’m looking for round pegs for round holes and you’re an oval.” I was either overqualified (meaning they didn’t think I’d stick around very long) or didn’t have the right background experience. Bluntly, too many civilian recruiters and HR folks considered me too expensive. HR computerized applicant tracking systems didn’t really digest military resumes very well – even when they’re “civilianized” by resume reviewers. These two components, along with many others, were what motivated me to pursue the EMBA program in Daniels; civilian credentials and networking as “mercenary” as it sounds.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Treat your education as you treated your service; you can’t just show up. You need to maintain the work ethic and discipline you had when you were in service and transition it to your studies. Build connections with your professors, alumni, peers, etc.; they may be the key connection to your next career. For undergraduates: you have life experience advantages that almost none of your peers do, so use them. “S2” your situation (most service members will know what “S2” is) and get the most out of your university experience (which doesn’t end at attending class or getting good grades).

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday!