By Brenda Lange
Jonathan William Baldwin, 24, is at the age when most of his peers have already graduated from college. Instead, he has just begun. And for a good reason. He was busy serving his country in the U.S. Army — deployed for a year in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, an area known for its high Taliban activity.
Today, Baldwin is a criminal justice major on track to graduate in 2019 with plans to become a federal agent with either the FBI, ATF or DEA after graduation. He chose Chestnut Hill College because it is military friendly — and so he could play sprint football.
“I applied to other Philadelphia schools but chose CHC because it is a part of the Yellow Ribbon Program,” Baldwin said. “Then Coach Pearson contacted me because I was an all-state player for my high school in New Hampshire. Although I was planning on Drexel, it was a no-brainer when I was given the chance to play football again.” (CHC is a voluntary participant in the government’s Yellow Ribbon Program, a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which helps fund qualifying veterans’ educational expenses. Through the program, CHC matches up to 50 percent of expenses above the Veteran’s Administration’s annual national cap. The VA matches CHC’s funding, making the veteran’s out-of-pocket expenses $0.)
That kind of one-two opportunity doesn’t come along every day, and Baldwin is happy with his choice. He joined 40 other veterans currently enrolled at CHC, a number that has been growing over the past few years and a group whom CHC has made a concerted effort to support as they transition to campus life. Part of that process includes recognizing the academic policies that work for veterans and providing personal counseling and career counseling that helps in translating the skills and expertise gained in military service to civilian professional life.
Baldwin’s tour of duty in Afghanistan was nine months at an outpost called Monti. “I did a lot of missions involving days sleeping in mountains,” he recalled, “getting shot at and interacting with Afghan locals on how to better provide safety for them. On our post it was common for the enemy to attack us three days out of a week. On my deployment I was a .50 caliber gunner and a 240b gunner (a machine gun usually fired from a bipod or tripod or mounted on a vehicle). My unit was the last unit to be at Monti, so when we left and turned it over to the Afghan army, the Taliban took it over six months later.
“Afghanistan really just taught me how to appreciate what we have here in America. Seeing that side of a Third World country and how they live day by day really has an effect on you. Returning to civilian life was somewhat of a difficult process. From being on such a high level of alert to coming home and thinking you don’t have to worry was tough. I believe very few movies really get it right. One of my favorite movies, ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Lone Survivor’ portrayed it the best, I believe.”
When asked to compare the male bonding in war with the male bonding in football, Jonathan replied, “That’s a great question. Honestly, I do believe you can compare the two to be similar. Although football isn’t a life-threatening sport, you still can develop the same type of bond. When you are with a group of people for so long through the blood, sweat and tears, it’s just natural to consider these people brothers or family.”
“We’ve been working hard to improve the college community for students who served in the military, finding out what their experiences are as servicemen and servicewomen and as students and how we can better serve them to make their time here successful,” said Michael Reig, J.D., registrar and chair of CHC’s Veterans Committee.
“Military students have a wide range of experiences. Some have been stationed all over the world and have acquired unique skills. Some have served on the battlefield under enormous stress. Many are older than their classmates and may be married with families and have full-time jobs. Their responsibilities have often been much more than those faced by others their age.”
In the fall of 2015, CHC was designated a “Military Friendly School” by Victory Media, a Pennsylvania company founded 14 years ago by Navy veterans to help other vets transition back into civilian life and to help schools and employers better reach this group.
“Post-secondary institutions earning the 2016 Military Friendly School award have exceptionally strong programs for transitioning service members and spouses,” said Daniel Nichols, chief product officer of Victory Media and a Navy Reserve veteran. This designation helps put CHC on the radar of many prospective students who served in the military and are looking to continue or advance their education.
Part of CHC’s appeal for many prospective students is its size, which Baldwin believes helps with the adjustment process. “Being a smaller school with small classes helps,” he said. “The professors all really care about each student and will go out of their way to make each one a success, which is a very caring act.”
This article is reprinted, with permission, from the Chestnut Hill College Magazine. Since the article was published, CHC received the 2017 Military Friendly School designation. Other programs and information for military students can be found at www.chc.edu/admissions/undergraduate/military.