ARLINGTON, Va. — Transitioning from the military to college and then a civilian career presents a unique challenge to Soldiers, who go from a structured environment to a completely different lifestyle with new routines. As a result, many need help navigating post-military life.
That's where retired Sgt. Garrett Anderson comes in. Anderson serves as the outreach coordinator and student recruiter at the Chez Veterans Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — a one-stop shop for education and transition programming for Soldiers.
Anderson was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, losing an arm and breaking his jaw. He ended up at the Soldier Recovery Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent eight months recovering.
From there, he became invested in helping other Soldiers overcome their own ordeals. He was humbled by individuals at Walter Reed with more serious injuries than his own, and subsequently started to speak publicly about life after trauma in the military.
After a brief stint working for a U.S. congressman, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Illinois through the Chez Veterans Center in 2018. He took on a role that involved visiting community colleges and serving as the face of the center, and also did plenty of recruiting work. Currently, the center has a little more than 600 military-connected students on campus, Anderson said.
Anderson’s role is to help Soldiers transition to civilian life as well as get into higher education, as well as take care of their needs right now. The center provides Veterans Affairs services like physicals and shots, and a psychologist visits every two weeks.
The goal is to help Soldiers overcome a past traumatic experience and start a new life with a good education and promising career.
"We have a program where we help them with the next level of employment, like an internship with top 100 companies like Boeing," Anderson said. "We want them to have that job before they even leave the department, because they have a destination and are not floundering out there."
Anderson is preparing for upcoming events like a webinar series and a virtual job fair that has attracted the participation of around 20 companies, including heavyweights Google and Boeing. Events like these provide further benefits to Soldiers and give them a leg up as they prepare for life after the military.
Anderson said watching veterans succeed is what drives him to keep doing what he’s doing.
“Those success stories are what make me come to work every day,” he said. “If you enjoy what you do, you don’t work a day in your life, and I truly enjoy helping veterans be successful on that next level.”