From the time he graduated from Dinuba High School, Matthew Walker was on a mission. And it didn’t include a college education.
“That was for ‘other people,’ that hadn’t gotten enough of that ‘book learning,’ he says, with a twinkle in his eye. “I was going to make a man’s choice, and not a geeky choice, and join the Marine Corps.”
He served as a Marine for six years.
“The first three years, I was an information systems specialist based in Hawaii,” he says. “The second three years, I was awarded a fairly – I would consider a prestigious duty – of Marine security guard.”
His job was to protect embassies in Greece, Uganda, China and Turkey. Walker describes that position as a “double-edged sword.”
“It was really hard and trying – but the rewards were without price,” says Walker, who had never traveled outside the country before he joined the service.
He was honorably discharged about three years ago.
“I bleed red, white and blue, I love the Marine Corps, I miss it every day,” he says. “But I joined when I was 17, I was good at it, but that doesn’t mean I have to dedicate my whole life to it. So here I am.”
Walker, now 26, is working on a new mission. He married his high school sweetheart two years ago. He enrolled at Reedley College, where he’s studying engineering. And he tutors other students in history and study skills.
Walker says he wasn’t so studious in high school. His mother-in-law Kathy Rudy agrees.
“You know, he was more interested in the activities he was doing outside of school, then the ones inside school,” Rudy says.
But Walker says his fellow Marines awakened in him an interest in learning, academia and engineering, in particular. The military gave him the life skills needed to excel in the classroom.
“My military service is 100 percent responsible for the success that I have today,” Walker says.
About 120 veterans attend Reedley College, and that’s the case with many of them, says Amber Fowler, who oversees the school’s Veterans Resource Center.
“Because of their training, a lot of them are very disciplined, so when class starts at 8, those are the students there at 7:45,” Fowler says. “You hear them say, ‘if you’re on time, you’re late.’”
For Walker, the academics have been the easy part. The transition from the military to civilian life has been more difficult.
“I didn’t realize that it was what it was, but I think was depressed for loss of identity, my Marine Corps identity,” Walker says.
In the military, he says, he had a uniform that he wore every day.
“I had a mission statement; I had a purpose; I had an identity,” he says. “I got out, and I kind of lost all of that.”
Being a student, he says, just doesn’t require the same amount of discipline or dedication.
“The ‘what’s going to happen today?’ type of element, what’s going to be required of me – you don’t run into that as much in campus life,” he says.
Veteran students often experience that loss of identity, says Amber Fowler.
“They go from having structure on a daily basis, to coming home and being able to do whatever they want,” she says. “So coming home and finding that structure and their place back in the civilian life is often a challenge for a lot of our students.”
She says the Veterans Center provides students with camaraderie during that period.
“They can meet other people who have been through the same experiences, and can help each other get through that difficult transition,” she says.
Walker has overcome that challenge by taking on responsibilities at home. Along with school and work, he volunteers with a local youth group, and is involved with his family.
He’s also working toward a greater mission.
“I went into engineering, to go into the Department of State, and go back overseas, and work in embassy work,” he says. “Like I said, I bleed red, white and blue, but I like being overseas, I love being immersed in other cultures.”
With the support of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, he plans on transferring to a top-tier university.