Brian Ivory has done a lot.
He’s been to Kuwait and Iraq. He’s flown C-130s and other military airplanes. He’s pulled a person out of a burning car and been awarded a Carnegie Medal for it.
But that was back when he was in the Marines. Now, he’s sitting in lecture halls and studying for tests like the rest of Stony Brook University students.
Ivory, 31, is here because of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. Called the “G.I. Bill 2.0” and signed by President Obama in 2010, the bill aims to help veterans in the same way the original G.I. Bill did after World War II.
For veterans like Ivory, this means the government will pay 100 percent of their tuition and a monthly living stipend for 36 months, or four years of schooling, as well as having other expenses taken care of in exchange for at least 90 days of active duty service from Sept. 11, 2001, onward.
Since the end of the war in Iraq and the start of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the number of veteran students has increased by 16-fold, according to an article in The New York Times. And with about 22,000 troops scheduled to return from Afghanistan by the fall, this number is expected to jump even higher.
The plan worked out well for Ivory. A native of Ronkonkoma, he enlisted in the Marine Corps after trying and struggling with school.
“I went to school a little bit but I wasn’t 100 percent there,” he said. “I also knew that school was really expensive – I’d already rung up some debt from school – so I knew that my only viable option was to go to the military or to do something of that nature so I could pay, because I come from a large family.”
Ivory enlisted in July of 2001, right before the terrorist attacks of September 11th. He left for boot camp in November, traveling up and down the East Coast before being sent to Kuwait and Iraq. He spent his last two years in North Carolina flying planes out of the country on missions.
When he finished in 2006, he returned to school, starting at Suffolk Community College and then transferring to SBU.
“I originally went because I wanted to go for school and I knew the military pays for your schooling,” he said. “That’s why I initially joined. I didn’t know September 11th was going to happen, and that kind of put my school off for a bit. But once I got out I started going to school.”
School is a little different for Ivory than for the typical student. While most undergraduates are struggling to find direction and decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives, the Biochemistry major is focused. He has his military training to thank for that.
“It’s different being in a military vibe where it’s so structured – here you pretty much answer yourself,” he said. “You have to have self-discipline.”
Ivory, who was a sergeant in the Marines, also had to adjust to being treated like everyone else.
“It’s a little different because I was already established as a sergeant and I was going to be a staff sergeant,” he said. “I had already earned seniority in a sense.”
While some other colleges offer specific classes and support groups to help veterans get back into the swing of a normal undergraduate life, SBU does not offer those options. Veterans need to find their way on their own.
Although it was a little hard to adjust at first, Ivory said that, for him, “overall it’s worked out.”
“It’s better now because I’m more focused,” he said.