Countless Pacific University students and alumni have committed their lives to the service of their country with the U.S. Armed Forces.Wanda Laukkanen | Writer
Richard Harman ’13 joined the Armed Forces in the shock and anger that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“I wanted to join the Marines because I wanted to make a difference in the world after 9/11. I wanted to feel like I had done my part,” he said.
“When my country called out, I wasn’t going to turn my back.”
Harman was among an 8 percent increase in enlistees in the U.S. Armed Forces in the three years following 9/11. He spent four years on active duty and another four in the reserves after returning to civilian life.
Today, he is a senior at Pacific University — at age 34 — with dreams of pursuing a career in physical therapy.
Nationwide, the number of veterans enrolled in colleges and universities is spiking, aided in part by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Enacted in August 2009, the bill provides veterans with the most comprehensive education benefit package since the original GI Bill of 1944, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
But the number of veterans today is still nowhere near those of the 1940s, and the men and women returning from service to go to school have been called, by some, one of the invisible minorities on today’s college campuses.
Private schools like Pacific attract fewer veterans than community colleges or state universities. But in 2012-2013, 26 veterans and 36 dependents of military veterans are using Veterans Administration benefits to attend Pacific. Harman is among them.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Harman grew up in the small town of La Feria, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican border. An active Boy Scout who rose to the rank of Eagle Scout, Harman nevertheless described his childhood as “rough.”
Harman earned an associate’s degree in network information management at a local community college and was completing an internship when 9/11 happened.
His outrage at the attack, combined with a poor job outlook, led him to the Marines.
“Because I was a little older, a little more mature than some of the 18-year-olds that had never been away from home … I was put in a leadership role,” he said.
He became a squad leader in boot camp, then in his platoon during active duty, rising to the rank of corporal.
He was sent to Djibouti, a small country of about 900,000 bordering the Red Sea. There, he worked on the electronics for different missile guidance systems.
After about a year, he was sent back to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where, among other duties, he coached others on shooting skills. He later spent four years in the reserves while working for Micron as a technician in Virginia.
He was planning a move to Oregon’s high-tech region — though he didn’t particularly like his field — when a motorcycle accident landed him in the hospital.