Written by: Romeo Sarmiento
“I keep getting lost, I do not know what I am doing wrong,” said the Second Lieutenant during a land navigation exercise. Land navigation is a discipline used for foot or mobile movements to move from one position to another. In 2018, I was training to become a Combat Instructor for The Basic School, the premiere course for newly commissioned Marine officers. Because I did not become a land navigation expert overnight, I had to experience getting lost and finding my way through training. When I trained for my position, I was supported by numerous instructors who gave me the necessary tools and techniques for success. The issue with individual land navigation is the application after you start.. you are doing it alone!
Unfortunately, a similar situation can occur during a military transition. The respective transitioning session we all receive prior to our final day is jam-packed with information. Most of it goes out the window because it is not practiced. Well, that does not have to be the case during higher education. In fact, there are programs like Service to School that match you with a veteran supportive mentor who can walk with you as you navigate your own path to and through college. As a student veteran who has been a mentor and a mentee for others, the act of mentorship is necessary for two reasons: clarity and confidence.
As I transitioned out, I experienced a divergence from the rest of my circle. It was intimidating at first. Honestly, it still is. Being a college student is not a unique path for some veterans but is different enough to warrant the help you deserve. The hardest part of college navigation is to know that you are going in the right direction. This is when mentorship becomes crucial to a transition. Service to School Ambassadors are mentors who want to help you accomplish your educational goals. You need a sponsor who can always advocate for you. There will be times that you think you can’t do it. You also want someone to act as a soundboard for the not-so-good ideas. This becomes a reflective process where a back-and-forth conversation becomes all the more important for making decisions. Once I was matched with my mentor, I became quickly aware of the apprehensiveness of my college choices.
Let’s go back to the lost Lieutenant. He had the compass in one hand with a map on the other. Why is he still lost? It turns out, he did not know what he was looking for. That was me during my first semester in community college. Although I took on 21 credits for an accelerated degree, what was it for? What was my reason? My mentor held me accountable by asking me my purpose. I was comfortable with the decision to transfer to my local college after 60 credits. At one point in one of our conversations, I admitted to self-selecting myself into a school. It never occurred to me that schools all over the country could benefit from me (my mentor helped me understand this). Initially, I only cared about the programs offered, location, and what the campus photos looked like. It wasn’t until my mentor shared resources such as Service to School’s VetLink program and the U.S. News College Rankings that I began looking at top schools. Here I was, about to settle for the closest university, requiring the least amount of trouble. As I began to research more about universities across the country, I learned of the almost endless opportunities for undergraduate academic programs. My mentor allowed me to open my eyes and cast a wider net. In the military, we are trained to take the road most traveled by. It is the certainty that we prefer.
We need mentorship. If the lifeblood of a service member is a mission success, it is no different than pursuing higher education. Service to School utilizes the veteran status as a vehicle for an invaluable mentorship program that will help you navigate through the college application process. Take on a mentor during your transition, you need someone to recalibrate you when you begin to stray away from the goal. While there is no metric of success when it comes to becoming a mentee, the only requirement for you is effort – an all-familiar attribute to a service member/veteran.
p.s. The Lieutenant passed Land Navigation, he just had to put in the effort.