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TO IRAQ AND BACK
From student to soldier, Corianna Kubasta has experienced some of the most stressful challenges a college student might face these days.
The help she has been receiving from fellow veterans and the Veteran Services Office are just part of UND’s commitment to being as military friendly as possible.
“I’m really lucky that there are a lot of people on campus who have been through this,” said Kubasta, 21, a native of Lidgerwood, N.D. “I call them, ask what to do, and they help me out. It’s what I hope other people coming back from military duty will experience.”
GI Jobs Magazine ranks UND in the top 15 percent of military-friendly schools in the nation, based on the results of a survey of 7,000 schools.
Just before the end of the fall semester of her sophomore year in late 2007, Kubasta left UND for deployment in Iraq as a specialist in the North Dakota Army National Guard 191st Military Police Company.
“A lot of my friends were going, so I volunteered to go with them,” she said. “My teachers were really good about it. They made sure I finished all the necessary course work for getting credit for my classes. I didn’t have to drop classes or take incompletes.”
Kubasta, a physical education and exercise science major, traded her textbooks for an assault rifle, a pistol, body armor and camouflaged fatigues. Her unit patrolled the Rusafa district in eastern Baghdad, including Sadr City, one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of Baghdad.
“We trained the Iraqi police and a few other security entities,” she said. “We were outside in Baghdad every day. It was like your adrenaline was always going. You had to watch your back and have everything correct. Your life depended on it every single day.”
“We opened schools and hospitals, and we secured areas,” she said. “We provided people with security so their kids would feel safe when they were out in the yard playing. The violence went down about 90 percent while we were there. It’s a really good feeling when you hear about that.”
As her tour of duty neared an end, Kubasta decided that she wanted to return to UND, but limited communications complicated the process. She managed to get in touch with Carol Anson, UND’s veteran certifying official.
“I couldn’t have done it without Carol,” Kubasta said. “I told her I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but I wanted to go back to school right away. She told me that she’d set everything up for me and got me into classes.”
Anson, who served in the U.S. Air Force at Grand Forks Air Force Base, says requests such as Kubasta’s from active-duty military are the norm for her office, which also helps students enroll in UND’s distance education programs.
“Many decide to attend UND because all veterans and all active-duty members receive the in-state resident tuition rate,” she said. “We have a student in Iraq right now taking online classes.”
Within two weeks after her final mission in Iraq, Kubasta was in Grand Forks, a few days late for the 2009 spring semester.
“Coming back was so slow-paced compared to what I was used to,” she said. “It was hard to go to school the day after I turned my rifle in.”
Not only was the climate vastly different, but she also had to readjust to college life as a civilian. Kubasta instinctively scanned crowds for trouble, even though she knew there was no reason to do so.
“I’d find myself watching my back,” she said. “I couldn’t sit in front of the classroom. I had to sit in back because I couldn’t stand having people behind me.”
Kubasta also wasn’t sure how faculty and other students would treat her if they knew she’d served in Iraq. She didn’t want to talk about it.
“The first class I had was foreign policy with Dr. Berger [Albert Berger, associate professor of history],” she said. “He was really supportive of the two veterans in the class.
“When it came to talking about post-9/11 foreign policy, he was really cool about asking us our opinions on what Iraq was like compared to what the textbook said. He was really respectful of us.”
The reception she received in a course on international human rights was similar.
“It was constructive discussion, and it was a very good learning environment for everyone in the room,” she said. “It definitely made my first semester back a whole lot better.”
And when people learned Kubasta was a veteran of the war in Iraq?
“They told me it was awesome that I’d helped people in another country,” she said.
Anson and her staff assist approximately 700 students on campus who identify themselves as veterans.
“We process education benefits for National Guard, dependents of disabled veterans and active-duty members who are using the GI Bill,” she said. “We also process enrollment for the new post-9/11 GI Bill for students who served on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, and for veterans using the GI Bill under the Montgomery GI Bill. We have students using VA (Veterans Affairs) vocational rehabilitation.”
Whether it’s providing in-state tuition to all veterans, creating a Facebook page for them, helping them find classrooms or making sure they enroll in the programs that provide the most benefits, it’s no accident that UND is considered one of the nation’s most military-friendly schools.
“We have a veterans advisory group that gets together each semester to come up with things we can do to make veterans feel more welcome,” Anson said.
As Kubasta can attest, it’s well worth the effort.