Roger Perkins, Army veteran and director of Veterans Support at the University of Utah, makes it his mission to be personable and approachable to veteran students at the U. “How could I not be? That’s the whole point of what we do here,” he said, referring to the Veterans Support Center on campus. The center aims to provide a welcoming environment where veterans can relax and interact with people who share many experiences in common.
Perkins is able to strongly connect with these veterans because he is a veteran, with more than 20 years of active duty service and finishing his career as the assistant chief of staff, G2 (intelligence) for the U.S. Army Special Forces Command. His service sent him across the globe, from Thailand to Saudi Arabia to Germany and everywhere in between.
The Veterans Support Center strives to help veteran students excel at the U. Perkins and his staff also offer guidance counseling and career coaching through the center, inviting fellow veterans who are lawyers, bankers and doctors to speak about their professional trajectories to help students decide on a field of study. They even give veterans a little pick-me-up twice a semester by feeding all who stop by the center during the first week of the semester and finals week.
Perkins believes that serving in the military often makes veterans more organized and disciplined students and civilians. Their military experience taught veteran students to be diligent in completing tasks no matter the circumstances, and to be “flexible and innovative” when roadblocks hinder their paths. For example, in a display of unmitigated tenacity, one veteran student worked through his traumatic brain injury sustained during his service to graduate from the U with a degree in math.
Hoping to create a close relationship with the students, Perkins emphasizes that his office is always open to veterans seeking advice or counsel. “I know them all on a personal level. A student can walk into my office, whether we know each other or not, and we can talk about anything,” he said.
Along with providing counsel, Perkins helps veterans adjust to civilian life. But many are already used to adapting to new situations. “The military requires you to adjust to a lot of things throughout the course of a career, whether you serve for two years or 21 years. You have to make adjustments every day,” he said.
For the few who find it more difficult to acclimate to civilian life, Perkins is there to help them identify and remedy the problem. “I can be extremely blunt. I can say this is a problem of your making because you’re not doing the things you should to prevent it, like seeking VA counseling or better managing your schedule. And they accept it, and that’s a good thing.”