Veterans Day is a national holiday dedicated to being grateful and showing appreciation for those who have served the United States and protected its freedom. Even a city as small as Flagstaff is home to many veterans and their families.

Since the opening of the Veteran Success Center, which is located in the University Union Fieldhouse, NAU has become increasingly more popular for veteran students. Retired Army veteran junior Elias Reyes and Marine veteran alumnus Zach Hamilton are just some of the many veterans who have found a home at NAU.

Reyes was a 16-year active duty member of the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq during his service. Hamilton was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps for four years and was deployed overseas four times during those years. He has been to the South Pacific Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, as well as South Korea and Afghanistan. When they returned home, both Reyes and Hamilton decided to pursue their undergraduate degrees at NAU.

For many veterans, one of the most difficult parts of returning home from active duty or service is having to readjust to society.

Reyes was injured in his last deployment and said the recovery period made adjusting especially difficult. He said adapting to civilian life alone is a very challenging feat for most veterans.

“The military has a standard for everything, so when you’re trying to be a career service member, adapting to civilian life can have its ups and downs,” Reyes said.

In Hamilton’s experience, adjusting to civilian life can be difficult, simply because it is such a drastic change of pace that requires individuals to be self-driven.

“In the military, you are often told where to be, what to do and how to do it,” Hamilton said. “Most of your schedule is made up by somebody else. One of the major challenges that I faced, and that I think most veterans face, is they come here and they experience a lack of structure for the first time.”

As with many veterans, returning to school and earning degrees was very important to Reyes and Hamilton once they left the military. Reyes said he had some uncertainties about returning to school, mainly because he is a non-traditional student and not in the same age range as his peers. However, he found a very welcoming atmosphere at NAU and said he has enjoyed every second of his past three years as a Lumberjack.

“I’ve been very privileged to be accepted by my peers, and my professors don’t talk down to me, even though I’m probably older than some of them,” Reyes said. “NAU has been a wonderful experience for me, and I’m looking forward to graduation next December.”

As Hamilton began his path toward an undergraduate degree, he noticed his priorities were different than other college students. Hamilton said he truly knew what he wanted to do with his life, because he was several years older than many of his classmates.

Hamilton struggled with not having anything in common with people around him, until he realized he could learn from them, despite an age gap.

“Getting over that was realizing what I can contribute to the classroom and what traditional students could teach me,” Hamilton said. “Even though they were five to seven years younger than I am, I still had a lot to learn from them.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in politics, Hamilton became a full-time NAU employee at the Veteran Success Center. His job includes helping veterans, as well as military-affiliated students, pursue success within their education and potential career paths. He said he also attempts to facilitate a welcoming environment to help these students navigate any military-based eterans Day is a national holiday dedicated to being grateful and showing appreciation for those who have served the United States and protected its freedom. Even a city as small as Flagstaff is home to many veterans and their families.

Since the opening of the Veteran Success Center, which is located in the University Union Fieldhouse, NAU has become increasingly more popular for veteran students. Retired Army veteran junior Elias Reyes and Marine veteran alumnus Zach Hamilton are just some of the many veterans who have found a home at NAU.

Reyes was a 16-year active duty member of the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq during his service. Hamilton was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps for four years and was deployed overseas four times during those years. He has been to the South Pacific Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, as well as South Korea and Afghanistan. When they returned home, both Reyes and Hamilton decided to pursue their undergraduate degrees at NAU.

For many veterans, one of the most difficult parts of returning home from active duty or service is having to readjust to society.

Reyes was injured in his last deployment and said the recovery period made adjusting especially difficult. He said adapting to civilian life alone is a very challenging feat for most veterans.

“The military has a standard for everything, so when you’re trying to be a career service member, adapting to civilian life can have its ups and downs,” Reyes said.

In Hamilton’s experience, adjusting to civilian life can be difficult, simply because it is such a drastic change of pace that requires individuals to be self-driven.

“In the military, you are often told where to be, what to do and how to do it,” Hamilton said. “Most of your schedule is made up by somebody else. One of the major challenges that I faced, and that I think most veterans face, is they come here and they experience a lack of structure for the first time.”

As with many veterans, returning to school and earning degrees was very important to Reyes and Hamilton once they left the military. Reyes said he had some uncertainties about returning to school, mainly because he is a non-traditional student and not in the same age range as his peers. However, he found a very welcoming atmosphere at NAU and said he has enjoyed every second of his past three years as a Lumberjack.

“I’ve been very privileged to be accepted by my peers, and my professors don’t talk down to me, even though I’m probably older than some of them,” Reyes said. “NAU has been a wonderful experience for me, and I’m looking forward to graduation next December.”

As Hamilton began his path toward an undergraduate degree, he noticed his priorities were different than other college students. Hamilton said he truly knew what he wanted to do with his life, because he was several years older than many of his classmates.

Hamilton struggled with not having anything in common with people around him, until he realized he could learn from them, despite an age gap.

“Getting over that was realizing what I can contribute to the classroom and what traditional students could teach me,” Hamilton said. “Even though they were five to seven years younger than I am, I still had a lot to learn from them.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in politics, Hamilton became a full-time NAU employee at the Veteran Success Center. His job includes helping veterans, as well as military-affiliated students, pursue success within their education and potential career paths. He said he also attempts to facilitate a welcoming environment to help these students navigate any military-based difficulties that may get in the way of achieving their goals. However, Hamilton said all students face difficulties.

“Veteran students don’t face more hurdles than any other subgroup of students — I don’t think,” Hamilton said. “But they do face a different type — a different category than most other students do.”

The Veteran Succes Center provides a variety of services to veterans, including free printing, computer access and social events.

U.S. Army veteran Rachel Thorpe also works at the succes center and said it puts on a multitude of events to allow the veteran student population to mingle and meet other veterans. The success center just recently held a Veterans Challenge Race Monday, which was open to all students.

“We’re just trying to incorporate other students with veteran students so that people who don’t have much knowledge of the military can come to participate and learn about it,” Thorpe said.

The Veteran Success Center is the central campus location for anything military or veteran related. The goal of these events is to bring students and veterans together.

Hamilton said the most important goal within Veteran and Military Services is to ensure each and every veteran is provided the opportunity to pursue education and rewarding careers. Although Hamilton has finished his time in college, he said he is still focused on gaining more knowledge over the years.

“It’s time to start going out and seeking out more education so I can continue expanding my career, mind and skills,” Hamilton said.

After he earns his degree and graduates in December 2020, Reyes plans to do more humanitarian work. He has already traveled to Latin America in past years to volunteer. As he prepares to pursue his dreams with the help of a college degree, Reyes said he is beyond grateful for the programs NAU offers to him and his fellow veterans.

“I always want to leave a fingerprint wherever I go instead of a smudge,” Reyes said. “I’m grateful for the program that NAU has — working with veterans, working through disability resources — so that there aren’t any limitations to be able to attain your dream.”

NAU has walked the extra mile to ensure all veteran and military-affiliated students feel welcomed and supported at the university. Despite the difficulties that come with being a veteran student, Reyes, Hamilton and countless other veterans who pursue degrees prove it is worth the transition and effort.