SAN ANTONIO - Texas A&M San Antonio has become the first university in the nation to mandate military cultural competence training for faculty and staff.
And for a city that calls itself Military City USA and a university where one in every five students is military-connected, it’s a big deal.
It was those statistics that gave Dr. K.C. Kalmbach, associate professor of psychology, the idea to start the training.
"Around World War II about nine or 10 percent of the American public served in the military and as a result it was pretty likely you had a family member of friend or neighbor who knew someone in the military. So the culture, the traditions, the customs were much more familiar with the public. Since 9/11 less than half of 1 percent of Americans have served in the military so this has led to something that's being termed the military civilian divide, and the idea is that these two cultures are becoming further and further apart," Kalmbach said.
As result, she said college-going military members can feel very isolated and alienated. She also believes the divide might even be greater on college campuses, so she we wanted to better educate faculty and staff and close the gaps. "Even though we've got a large percentage of military students we actually have relatively few faculty and staff who've ever served."
The professor set up a program with the campus's Military Affairs Office, and even included some military connected students in the training.
One of those students was U.S. Navy veteran Jose Ramirez, who served 8 1/2 years as a Navy corpsman, where he deployed twice and saved many lives.
"I experienced a lot of things in my time. Everything from IED (improved explosive devices) explosions to gunshot wounds, losing very close friends," he said.
He admits the transition back to civilian life was difficult, but said he came back a better man.
"A lot of times we're maybe not prepared as well once we exit the military. We don't know what to expect to adapt into a totally different system in itself whether you're in the military or not, is difficult," Ramirez said.
He became a psychology and sociology double major at Texas A&M San Antonio, where he slowly began to feel at home, despite a generally tough transition and dealing with post-traumatic stress.
One reason he gives for feeling included on campus is the military cultural competence training program that started in August.
"They're putting words into action. Not just saying thank you for your service but they're actually doing something behind it and this training was great," Ramirez said.
The training involves education and awareness in areas like military culture, customs and traditions. It also goes over some of the barriers or challenges that military connected students face.
For a military student battling PTSD or other issues, loud construction sounds outside a classroom during a test could be distracting and now professors are aware of things like that.
They're also gaining a deeper understanding of a military student's personal life, which could enable them to be more lenient when students need it.
"For example, going to a doctor's appointment at the VA, it could take you three or four months to get that appointment, but if you're in class and that professor may be strict on the time they may not let you out," Ramirez explained
Kalmbach still hears from professors making changes because of the training.
"Once piece of feedback I received from a faculty member was, 'I thought I was being a good professor when I would be flexible with deadlines and test dates and that sort of thing. I thought I was being accommodating and it didn't even occur to me that for a military member that can be very frustrating because they consider their syllabus to be their marching orders," she said.
These small steps are creating big bridges between cultures, and strengthening the campus as a whole.
“If they feel like they belong, they're more likely to stay and then graduate and that's really what the purpose is," Kalmbach said.
Since Texas A&M San Antonio started the first training in August other universities around the nation have followed suit.
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