Tuesday, November 3, 2015

For former Marine, college the answer to life after military

Briona Partin

In honor of Veterans Day, here is a profile of a veteran now attending Grossmont College.

Being a wife and mother of five children ages 2 to 12 is tough enough, but throw into the mix the roles of college student, retail sales associate and president of Grossmont College Student Veteran Organization, and you’ve got the hectic life of Briona Partin.

Following her discharge from the Marine Corps in 2014, Partin enrolled at Grossmont College after her husband, a former student, sang the college’s praises.

“I have loved every minute,” said the nine-year veteran who reached the rank of sergeant as as a motor transportation operator, mainly driving military cargo trucks called MTVRs (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement).

Partin said she was initially wary about revealing her veteran status to others on campus, but after discovering the student veteran organization, or SVO, and the Veteran Resource Center (VRC), which provides a central entry point for veterans as they transition from the military to the classroom, she had a change of heart.

“Grossmont has helped me as a veteran by having the VRC, which is a great place to go, relax, be in an environment where you can talk freely without feeling the need to apologize or being judged,” she said. “Within the VRC, you have other service members who have been there, done that, and fully understand.”

Similar camaraderie exists within the SVO, she said, and there is a helping spirit that is palpable.

“We are getting more and more into the community with community service and participating in parades,” she said. “We have an outreach with the other SVOs around San Diego, including SDSU and UCSD. Inside the SVO, we love to help each other out. We try and take care of our own, whether it’s helping with classes, VA medical or the GI Bill.”

With nearly 1,500 veterans enrolled at East County’s only public institutions of higher education, both current and past members of the armed forces are a significant and valued presence within the Grossmont and Cuyamaca college communities.

Both colleges have Veteran Affairs or Veteran Services offices serving as a liaison between college and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for, among other things, certification for VA educational benefits. Resource centers offer a collaborative delivery of student services such as those tailored for students with disabilities and those needing counseling or access to assistive technologies. The colleges also have a longstanding practice of giving military personnel and veterans top priority in registering for classes.

Partin served a one-year deployment in Afghanistan, tracking U.S. military convoys in case air support was needed or to send in backup at times of enemy attack. A highlight of her deployment was meeting former Army General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, at a re-enlistment and swearing-in ceremony.

“I was part of a group of 30 from my unit who flew into Kandahar for this ceremony,” she said. “Petraeus addressed us as a group during the ceremony and met with each one of us for a picture. He asked if we had everything we needed.”

Currently in her second year at Grossmont, Partin is working toward an associate degree in athletic training with plans to transfer to San Diego State University. Her ultimate career goal is to become an athletic trainer in professional sports, either football, hockey, or baseball.

“I want to change the mindset that women can’t deal with the pro side – I want to be like the female assistant athletic trainer for the L.A. Dodgers,” she said.

Formerly among the 7 percent of the Marine Corps who are women, Partin is accustomed to challenging gender stereotypes. Originally from Washington state, she joined the Marine Corps, ignoring naysayers’ premonitions that she wouldn’t even make it through boot camp.

“When you picture a Marine, most people picture guys in dress blues, or male drill instructors,” she said. “Until recently, males were the face of the Marine Corps. Now you see females on the posters and commercials to bring a new light to a service that is dominated by men.”

Carrying a full-time load of 14 units – the average class is three units – and working 20 hours a week at a retail store in Mission Valley, Partin’s life is beyond frenetic. Most days she is sleep-deprived from having to wait until her children are in bed before starting her homework.

Still, she said she wouldn’t trade her life for anything. And college, she added, has been the answer for making the often difficult transition from military to civilian life.

“I would recommend college for any veteran who is looking for something to do after the military, no matter what age,” she said. “You served in the military – you deserve to better yourself through education. And Grossmont is great, whether you served four years or 35 years in the service. It is a great place to find yourself outside of the military.”