Bustos visits with student veterans at Sauk

DIXON – When Ashley DeArmitt left the Navy in 2012, she was nervous about transitioning into the real world.

“When I first wanted to get into the nursing program, I didn’t know anything about benefits or anything,” said DeArmitt, a second-year student at Sauk Valley Community College.

DeArmitt, 25, spent 4 years in the Navy as a quartermaster.

When she found out about the veteran services program at Sauk, she said her mind was put at ease.

“I was so surprised, because everything has been such a breeze,” said DeArmitt, who has been in the program both of her years.

For the past 5 years, Victory Media, a media entity for military personnel transitioning into civilian life, has named the college a military-friendly school.

That caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, who spent about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon with some of the students. She discussed support services and programs available to student veterans.

“When there is a program within our congressional district that receives national recognition, I want to know about it,” said Bustos, who is seeking re-election from the 17th Congressional District on Nov. 4. “Especially when it involves veterans. Our goal is to find out about the program and what makes it successful.”

Victory Media honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that help America’s service members, veterans, and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus.

Bustos asked questions, offered encouragement, and listened closely as students and Kristina Fordyce, coordinator of Veterans Services, talked about what Sauk can do for veterans.

Fordyce said the college is dedicated to giving students all the individual attention they need.

“I sit down with each student when they come in to apply, and I talk about the different options and benefits available to them,” she said. “We walk them through the application process, and we advise them about the different programs we have.”

Fordyce says the program’s main purpose is to help students transition into college from the military.

“A lot of it is confusion and not understanding eligibility, because a lot of them don’t have any clue what they are eligible for,” she said. “We offer the guidance they need to get from point A to point B.”

There are between 180 and 200 veterans attending Sauk.

Patrick Carroll, 26, spent 4 years in the Air Force as a senior airman. If it wasn’t for the services provided at Sauk, he said things might have been different for him.

“I may have went straight to work and never attended school if it wasn’t for this program,” he said. “[Fordyce] knows all about the different benefits and programs, and she helped us out big time.”

Bustos said she plans to share the college’s success with other schools.

“When I visit veteran groups, and when I meet veterans in this region, I’ll tell them there are people at Sauk Valley dedicated to making sure you are successful,” she said.