Course helps veterans adjust back to civilian life
By Laith Agha –
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 02/03/2014 08:02:38 PM PST
After serving in Iraq, Brittany Becker said she had a tough time getting into a groove back in the civilian world. A sergeant in the Army Reserves, the San Rafael resident wasn’t completely stagnant — she runs a store part time and works on her art — but her life wasn’t moving in the direction she wanted it to.
“I just didn’t have any clearly defined goals, and I just kept waiting for things to happen,” said Becker, 30. “I was wondering why these things weren’t happening. I thought I was doing the right things, but in fact there were a lot of things I wasn’t doing.”
Then she heard about a course offered at College of Marin, designed to help returning veterans transition to civilian life. The class, “For veterans: reset your life and thrive,” is offered as part of the college’s community education programming.
Becker said that after going through the four-session, 12-hour course in November, she has a clearer understanding of how to achieve her goals.
“The whole point of the course is to give you the tools to figure out these goals you have,” Becker said. “It was about more than just career (goals). It was about having a happy, balanced civilian life.”
Marilyn Spoja and Ann Moreno, who created and teach the course, said the transition back to civilian often proves difficult for people who have spent significant portions of their lives conditioned for military life. So they need some tools to get on track when they do face that change.
“In that (military) environment, you do kinda forget what life is like in a civilian job,” Becker said. “There is a period of readjustment. It can really throw people off.”
The instructors said they were inspired by personal connections to start the course, as well as determining what veterans need. Spoja’s son is in the Marines. Moreno’s father was a colonel in the Army.
After teaching the pilot program — the one Becker attended — Spoja and Moreno have another course scheduled to begin March 25.
The course is taught as a process, presented in stages. In the first session, the veterans are asked to do self-assessments about their physical and mental health, career aspirations, cost of living, and family and friend support systems.
From there, the veterans go through exercises to identify their strengths and to use this awareness to determine their goals — and how to achieve them.
“We’re asking them to listen to themselves,” Moreno said.
“And to give themselves permission to listen to themselves,” Spoja said.
In one exercise, the veterans pair up with each other, and each takes a turn talking about things in their lives for which they have gratitude. It’s not as easy, initially, as it might sound.
“They kinda had this look on their faces: ‘what does that look like?'” Moreno said.
There is no spilling of the hearts in this exercise, but the chatter picks up as the seconds go by. And in that short minute, there appears to be a change.
“When I asked how they felt (after the exercise), they looked more relaxed,” Moreno said.
In the last session, Moreno and Spoja guide their students through the process of reaching milestones and setting priorities. This is the “coaching” part of the course, they said, which continues for the next three months, as they maintain contact with the veterans to make sure they’re following through with the lessons learned in the course.
“When they walk out of our classroom, they have so much more confidence,” Spoja said. “They know what’s working for them.”
As the program evolves, they plan to tailor courses to specific groups, such as female veterans, recent returnees and Vietnam veterans, “whose issues are very different” than veterans of more recent wars, Spoja said.
They also offer life-coaching courses that are not related to military personnel, through their Reset Go program.
The class isn’t for everyone, the instructors said. Someone with post traumatic stress disorder, a common ailment for veterans who have been affected by disturbing experiences, such as battle, “may not be ready to be pushed,” Spoja said.
It’s more for people such as Becker who are ready to move forward but need that push to break inertia.
Since going through the course, Becker, who is engaged to be married, said she has a better idea of how to achieve her goals, which are to practice law and raise a family.
“I didn’t know how to be proactive about defining the steps I need to take to achieve the goals I want,” Becker said. “Defining all those makes it less overwhelming and more achievable.”
Contact Laith Agha via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
For more information about Reset Go or the “reset” class for veterans, visit reset-go.org.