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Petraeus imparts life lessons to student veterans

Jack Hsu, Keith Williams and Joshua Jacobs of the USC Veterans Association (Photo/David Giannamore)

Before retiring, four-star Gen. David Petraeus was a seasoned combat leader and admired tactician. Now a civilian, he’s taken on several new roles, including two at USC.

In May, he was named a Judge Widney Professor, which carries affiliations with several USC schools, among them the USC Price School of Public Policy. Petraeus also serves as faculty adviser to the USC Veterans Association (UVA).

Recently, he offered advice and encouragement to leaders of the UVA about how to address the distinctive needs of students who have served in the military. During a recent videoconference hosted by USC Price, he listened to the association’s plans for serving the university’s more than 600 student veterans and gave his strategic recommendations for carrying them out over the next year and beyond.

“Our mission is to foster a community of veterans on campus, where members can find like-minded individuals who share the same military culture and many of the same experiences,” said UVA President Keith Williams ’10, who spent six years in the U.S. Air Force and is now a third-year student at the USC Gould School of Law. “They [are primarily in their mid-20s or older and] often find it hard to relate to 18- and 19-year-olds, so having a group to automatically step into is very beneficial for them.”

Williams explained that the five-year-old association’s plans include providing guidance, support and information, increasing community awareness of and advocating for veterans’ issues, and presenting events to benefit student veterans and the surrounding community.

“My sense is that you’re headed in the right direction,” Petraeus responded. “You should survey the membership periodically, asking ‘What should we be doing that we’re not?’ ‘What should we leave by the side of the road?’ and ‘What can we do better?’ ”

Pointing out an example of veterans’ needs, Petraeus cited a hypothetical student who has been out of school for six or eight years and realizes that he would benefit from a refresher course in math or another subject. The general also recommended a bit of military-style organization to track the status of the association’s initiatives by color-coding them as red for “no action” yet, amber for “on the way” and green for “resolved.”

Key initiatives discussed with Petraeus included providing priority registration for veterans who may have family or full-time-work needs; boosting the Yellow Ribbon Program, in which schools award student grants matched by the Veteran’s Administration; and establishing a Veteran’s Resource Center.

A task force to form and support such a center is “conceptualizing what it will look like and how it will work, and we hope it will be a beacon for the rest of the country,” according to Joshua Jacobs ’13, executive adviser and former president of the UVA, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years. He is currently working on a master’s degree in accounting from the USC Marshall School of Business.

Petraeus also suggested investigating other resource centers for veterans that could serve as a model and seeking help from national veterans organizations in planning the project.

In October, the East Coast-based retired general will be on campus to fulfill his academic duties. His itinerary will include meeting with the larger UVA membership in a Q-and-A session.

“I’m very grateful to have such a distinguished leader involved with our organization, UVA Vice President Jack Hsu said after the videoconference. “That he wants to continue being involved means a lot.”

Hsu, who spent five years in the U.S. Navy, is working on a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature and plans to go to law school.

Williams added that Petraeus’ support is very valuable because he is “so keenly aware of the challenges veterans face in the transition to both civilian and academic life.”

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Petraeus imparts life lessons to student veterans

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