When JSC senior Howard Badillo was an Army helicopter mechanic, he learned how to repair and rebuild the powerful aircraft that are big enough to transport a Humvee as well as soldiers. Now he’s on his way to rebuilding people’s lives as he prepares to finish his Health Sciences degree at JSC and move directly into a Doctor of Physical Therapy program in graduate school.
The transition from fixing choppers to helping people mend has been mostly smooth — though not without challenges — since Badillo was discharged in 2012. One of at least 35 military veterans now enrolled at JSC as undergraduates, graduate students and adult learners, he has taken advantage of several programs and support services JSC offers veterans. For Badillo, these have included an application-fee waiver, assistance with the GI bill, personal and academic counseling, institutional scholarships, and the camaraderie of the Veteran’s Center in Dewey Hall.
Badillo transferred to JSC after earning his A.A. in Liberal Studies from the Community College of Vermont (CCV), where he knew only one other veteran in his classes. At JSC, even though some students may not know he’s a veteran, he says he feels comfortable and welcome. “I feel I can be myself, be accepted, be part of the college,” he says.
Having veterans in JSC classes and on campus enhances the experience for everyone, says Tammy Goss, assistant registrar and the VA certifying official at JSC. “They bring a vast knowledge base that most will never experience,” she says, adding, “Meeting prospective students who are veterans is one of the best parts of my job. Over the years, I’ve developed friendships with many that have lasted long after they have graduated and moved on to their next life adventure.”
JSC takes numerous steps to welcome veterans, including hosting an annual Veterans Day dinner for student-veterans and their families as well as veterans in the community at large. Building on college’s 2016-17 common book, Tribe, by award-winning author, filmmaker and war correspondent Sebastian Junger, the fall semester featured a number of programs on campus highlighting veterans’ issues.
Badillo, born and raised in the Philippines, joined the Army soon after high school and was stationed in Hawaii. During his six years in the service, he was deployed for a year in Afghanistan, where he worked with a helicopter unit in Kandahar and Bagram.
“I did surprisingly enjoy the whole experience in the Army and the deployment,” he says. “The Army tries to prepare you for anything that happens. As time goes by, your unit becomes your family.”
He also liked learning about a different culture and meeting service members from other countries. “It was tough coming back. You have a routine. You’re with your guys. It was a hard transition for me,” he says. “You’re trying to reintegrate yourself into relationships.” Echoing the themes in the book Tribes, he adds, “You’re looking for this cohesion because you had it in Afghanistan.”
After his discharge, Badillo moved to Vermont with his fiancé to be near her family, and enrolled at CCV. As he worked to adjust to civilian life, he gradually came to see similarities between college and the military. In the Army, he explains, he was a squad leader of 10 soldiers and worked with a wide range of people. In college, he collaborates on projects with other students from different walks of life. Both experiences require communication and collaboration — skills he built in the Army. “It took me a while to realize they’re basically the same thing,” he says.
After CCV, he considered several state schools. A phone conversation with Associate Professor Amy Welch of JSC’s Department of Environmental & Health Sciences swayed him to apply to Johnson. She not only mapped out JSC’s concentration in pre-physical therapy, “she seemed to really care about where I was going and my path, even though she didn’t know who I was,” he recalls.
The first in his family to attend college, Badillo credits JSC with developing important skills in critical thinking, public speaking and making presentations, all of which have boosted his confidence.
The faculty is high on Badillo’s list of what he likes about Johnson State too. “They set high standards,” he says. “That rubs off on me. That’s what I needed — someone to push me.” They’re also very supportive in helping students succeed, and they’re friendly and approachable, he adds.