Sentinels of Freedom Staff,

When I began my journey in what I initially believed would be an easy task to complete a Bachelor’s degree, I was excited and motivated. I was pursuing a degree in Horticulture with an emphasis on landscape design. At first, everything went as planned, but the amount of manual labor that would go into climbing that career ladder proved to be too much for some of my disabilities. I fell into a world of confusion and uncertainty because I had used a large portion of my GI-Bill on courses for which would no longer be useful in a change of career. A situation that happens to many veterans I have spoken to. In order to save some of my educational benefits, I paid out of pocket for a semester. Living in California and having to pay daycare for two children while attending school, quickly depleted my savings and I acquired some debt. Even though I kept pursuing my educational goals, doubt settled in from time to time. Fortunately, I was accepted by San Diego State University where I also heard about Sentinels of Freedom at the Veterans Resource Office. I still remember the first phone call I made inquiring about the application process. Carol Prell answered the phone and even though I was not yet accepted into the program, speaking to her really made me feel like people still cared for veterans like myself. Fast forward to my acceptance and the change that Sentinels of Freedom had on my personal and educational wellness was instantaneous.

I want to say that the financial assistance was the most beneficial to me but after much debate, it was the mental support that was provided that was most beneficial to me. Having someone to talk to about whatever issue I was having, really takes a weight off your shoulders. The peace of mind of having this organization supporting me, allowed me to be mentally engaged in my studies. It felt like I wasn’t doing it on my own and I needed to be held accountable for my goals. The financial assistance over the course of my studies made it possible for me to pay off my debt. Although it was nice to be debt-free, what that meant was that I was able to take on two internships that are now proving to be invaluable experiences. I’m not sure that I would have been able to fulfill my internship requirements for graduation had I not had this extra source of income to help support my family and me. Now that I am finished with my degree in Urban Studies (Urban Planning, Design, and Management), I am exploring the employment opportunities in the morale, welfare, and recreation planning department for the military. I now realize how important military support organizations are to an individual member’s well-being. If everything goes as planned I will be able to realize a career in planning for better infrastructure and program development for the military community. More importantly, those who will eventually have to deal with the same problems I faced.

Sentinels of Freedom also made me learn something about myself. I now know that I am able to ask for help and it doesn’t make me any less of a person. I know that I am allowed to change my mind as long as I have a plan. Being in the military, your life is guided and structured, once leaving the service many of us feel lost and left to fend for ourselves. Thank you for bridging that gap and giving me the guidance I didn’t know I needed while at the same time preparing me to learn how to do this on my own. This experience has broadened my goals and what I thought would be the end of my education, ended up being a stepping stone because I now feel more than capable of acquiring a Master’s degree in the near future.

Jorge Morales