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There are 527 veterans on IU’s campus. Six shared their stories.



veterans

Jason Sweet, Esteban Camacho, Sean Byrne, John Summerlot, Matthew Rissinger Ty Vinson Buy Photos

One was sent to Okinawa. One was sent to Iraq. One was never deployed. 

One enlisted because he couldn't afford college. One enlisted because he wasn't mature enough. One was drafted. 

One will go to his kid’s Veterans Day assembly. One will work at Menards. One will smoke some weed and get free food.

But all are at IU. 

There are 527 student veterans on IU’s campus this semester. About half are undergraduate.

Previously known as Veterans Support Services and housed in the Indiana Memorial Union, the new Center for Veterans and Military Students, housed a block north of Luddy Hall, acts as a home base for these students.

Here are six of their stories.

John Summerlot, director of the Center for Veterans and Military Students

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Last year, John Summerlot, 43, went to Florida to help those affected by Hurricane Irma. 

A member of the Indiana Guard Reserve, Summerlot delivered food, water, ice and portable toilets to 14,000 people. 

As the Director of the Center of Veterans and Military Students, Summerlot said he tries to use his platform to raise awareness about the diversity of jobs the military performs.

“We think a lot about the military in war time,” he said.

But when not in combat, Summerlot said the job is different than people typically think.

Summerlot enlisted because his parents couldn’t pay for college. He served for four years active duty in the Marine Corps working in Counter Terrorism and Demolition. Summerlot then spent six years in the Army National Guard, where he worked with training, operations and planning, and now is in the Indiana Guard Reserve.

During his service, Summerlot helped rebuild an orphanage in Malaysia.

The problem, he said, is that people don’t talk about this part of the service.

He held an imaginary paint brush in the air and pretended to paint the air pink, like he did with the walls in the Malaysian orphanage.

“I know it’s tough,” he said, mimicking a manly voice. “It’s pink. I like pink.”

In college at Mississippi State University, Summerlot worked in residence life and the director of the program told him there were careers in that college management.

He worked for 14 years at IU in the residence halls and public safety while volunteering with Veterans Support Services. Two and a half years ago, he was hired as its director.

In this role, he is often asked to give speeches about veterans. He likes to debunk stereotypes.

“It’s not just a guy wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Army,’” Summerlot said.

He said he tries to spread awareness for different types of veterans.

“You don’t think of the younger men or women sitting next to you in class,” Summerlot said.

Per his job, Summerlot will spend Veterans Day and the time around it at various Veterans Day ceremonies at IU.

Sean Byrne, Ph.D. Student

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The retired two-star general will never forget getting his draft letter in 1972.

“Greetings from the President of the United States,” it read. At the bottom, “Richard M. Nixon” was signed.

Sean Byrne, who is in his 60s, was one of the last to be drafted during the Vietnam War. Fresh out of high school, he had dropped out of college because he expected to be drafted.

Still, the actual letter was a shock, he said.

“It was very surprising,” Byrne said. “But I was OK with it.”

After training, Byrne was sent to a paratrooper battalion in Germany instead of Vietnam. 

“I enjoyed it so much,” he said. “Especially the opportunities it gave me for leadership.”

When Byrne’s drafted time was up, he graduated from the ROTC program at the University of Detroit and rejoined the Army. 

He served for 34 more years in a variety of jobs, achieving the rank of Major General. He served as a military aide for George H.W. Bush while he was vice president and president, a job that took him to over 20 countries. 

This was Byrne's favorite job, but he said he loved serving.

“You have a good feeling about what you do,” Byrne said. “You’re doing something that’s meaningful for your country.”

Byrne emphasized the importance of brotherhood in the military.

“I don’t like jumping out of airplanes,” Byrne, who has jumped out of 175 airplanes, said. “But I like to be with guys who jump out of airplanes.”

After he retired in 2011, Byrne got a master’s degree from IU-Purdue University Indianapolis. Currently, he is finishing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Political Science at IU-Bloomington. Byrne said he doesn’t think he would be as educated without the military. 

For Veterans Day, he plans to go to his friend’s grandchildren’s school program. Byrne may also go to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Jason Sweet, undergraduate


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Jason Sweet’s mom had to sign his enlistment forms. Sweet was only 17 and had graduated early so he could enlist.

The military runs in Sweet’s family. His grandfather was in the Navy, his dad and brother were in the Army and his other brother and uncle were in the Marine Corps. When it came time, of course he would serve too.

Sweet himself served in both the Army and National Guard. He did three tours in Iraq. 

His wife was pregnant when he left for the first tour, and Sweet flew home after his son Jason Jr. was born.

“It sucked that I wasn’t there for the birth, but it was a good feeling,” he said.

On his second tour, he was hit with an Improvised Explosive Device. He went back for a third tour, but his back, head and neck started hurting again, and Sweet was medically retired  after 14 years of service in 2014.

He worked installing satellites for two years after he retired while his wife went to nursing school. 

He is now 35 and a full-time undergraduate student studying management in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. 

“I was tired of working dead-end jobs,” he said.

Sweet plans to cook out with his family and attend his kids’ Veterans Day programs at school for Veterans Day. 

On all three of his tours, Sweet said no one died, but since then, they have lost some people. Some struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, Sweet said.

“Veterans Day brings up memories of friends you’ve lost,” he said. 

Esteban Camacho, undergraduate

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The 24-year-old gets weird looks from his younger sophomore peers. 

Studying finance in the Kelley School of Business, Esteban Camacho is a Marine Corps veteran.

“Everyone assumes I’m strict, but I’m laid back,” Camacho said. 

Camacho said he wasn’t mature enough for college when he was 18, so he enlisted. 

He wanted to be in the Air Force, but said the recruiter never got back to him. Camacho’s dad was in the Marine Corps, so he joined it, too.

The day he enlisted, Camacho said he walked into the recruiters office and said he wanted to jump out of an airplane. The recruiter said they don’t do that anymore, so Camacho said they told him he could be an airplane mechanic. He agreed. 

Camacho’s service took him to the Philippines, Guam, Japan and South Korea, where he walked briefly on the North Korean side of the base.

His peers wanted him to reenlist, but after five years and four months, Camacho wanted to move on.

“I wanted to see how far I could go,” he said.

From April to August 2017, Camacho used his skillset as an airplane mechanic to work at the Indianapolis International Airport. He started at IU in the fall of 2017 and also serves in the Indiana Army National Guard. 

Camacho still gets calls from people asking for advice on fixing the airplanes because, for instance, people won't be able to get to a certain part of it. In order to solve that type of problem, Camacho said, you have to sometimes cut a wrench in half.

Camacho will celebrate Veterans Day at a tailgate Saturday with people from the Center for Veterans and Military Students.

Scotland McKinzie, undergraduate

Scotland McKinzie, 23, said his time in the Army was “work hard, play hard.” 

His grandpa and step-dad served, and McKinzie enlisted right after high school.

“I grew up in the bar at the American Legion,” he said.

While never deployed, McKinzie served at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, in the First Armored Division running military exercises.

The exercises were taxing, he said.

“It was fun, but once you’re out there for 17 days without showering, you get a little burnt out,” McKinzie said.

He would start working at 5 a.m. and wouldn’t get off until 6 or 7 at night. While he had fun serving, he was done after three years.

After serving, McKinzie spent six months at Menards to make ends meet. He started at IU fall 2017 studying economic consulting while still working in the Menards hardware department. 

The transition back to school hasn’t been easy, he said. Most of his classmates went straight from high school to college.

“It feels like the professor's going 60 miles per hour,” McKinzie said. 

His peers, he said, don't seem as stressed as he is.

"I don't know what the hell is going on," McKinzie said.

It has also been hard for McKinzie to work on group projects.

McKinzie was conditioned to show up on time and to do his part from both his childhood and his time in the Army. However, at IU, he has had experiences where members of a group project don’t show up to meetings all semester. 

“I have a very different perspective on teamwork,” McKinzie said.

He spends a lot of his free time at the Center for Veterans and Military Students because he said he likes the culture of veteran students. After going through basic training together, everyone is equal.

“We don’t see race or color,” he said.

This is out of necessity, he said.

“Even if you hate a guy, he’ll jump on a grenade for you,” McKinzie said.

McKinzie will spend Veterans Day working at Menards. He said he feels guilty taking free meals and would rather help people.

“I didn’t join up for people to take care of me,” he said. “I joined up to take care of people.” 

Matthew Rissinger, undergraduate

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Because of the military, Matthew Rissinger, 26, changed his entire belief system. 

He said he wasn’t mature enough for college, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps because he thought it was the hardest branch. 

Rissinger served in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Japan as a military police officer.

After five years, however, he said he wanted more personal freedom.

“The military is a 24-hour drain on your brain,” Rissinger said.

In the Marine Corps, he couldn’t have a beard or do drugs. 

So in January 2017, Rissinger stopped serving. He would start at IU in August, and had eight months to do whatever he wanted. 

Rissinger lived on friends' couches and traveled to Mexico and France in that time. 

He also met a French woman named Solea in a hostel. They dated for a time and took a road trip from San Francisco to Baltimore together. 

Now in his second year at IU, Rissinger is studying economics and French. He chose French because he said he fell in love with France and its language from dating Solea. 

Serving in the Marine Corps exposed Rissinger to experiences outside his middle-class suburban life, which started these belief shifts, he said. He then became interested in political theory and read books to help solidify his own beliefs.

Essentially, he said he doesn’t like society’s institutions and the “system,” which is part of the reason he doesn’t vote.

“No one can get to the top unless they’re bought,” Rissinger said.

Instead of the two-party system, he said he would prefer 12 people to run for office. 

His core belief is personal freedom. 

“Do cocaine,” Rissinger said. “Have sex with a man. Have four wives. Get an abortion. As long as you’re not hurting someone.”

Rissinger doesn’t celebrate Veterans Day at any ceremonies or events.

“This year, I’m gonna smoke weed and go eat a couple times for free,” Rissinger said.

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