As a soldier in the United States Army, Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Scales has spent over a decade leading soldiers at home and through two tours of duty in Iraq.

In his current role as veterans outreach coordinator for Mississippi State’s G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, Scales leads service veterans and their dependents through the transition to civilian life by helping them make the most of their time at MSU. He said this position is a natural fit.

“In the military, my job is to lead and take care of soldiers,” said Scales, who joined the center in 2010. “It works the same here. Having the responsibility of soldiers and dependents on my shoulders is something I can do in my sleep. It’s something I enjoy doing.”

Dedication from employees like Scales is one of the reasons Mississippi State is consistently recognized as one of the country’s most veteran-friendly universities. The staff at the veterans center assists with GI Bill benefit administration and serves as a liaison between veterans and others in the university community. In addition to these services, the university offers a non-resident tuition waiver for all honorably discharged veterans and their dependents.

“It’s important for dependents to have someone they can come to, that they can trust, that’s actually responsible for them when their parents are away. We take care of them the same way we would our own children, and as a veteran myself, I have dependents that go to school here.” ~ Eddie Scales

When he’s not in Starkville, Scales is often on military bases or at education fairs representing the university, highlighting Mississippi State’s strong academic programs and the support veterans receive on campus.

“Besides being a great university, our center is top-of-the-line,” Scales said. “There are not many universities, especially in the Southeastern Conference, that have a center like this one.”

Charles Pearman shown holding a metal seal of the U.S. Navy, a veteran and senior civil engineering major, said the university’s Center for America’s Veterans has allowed him to make many important social and professional connections.

Founded in 2006 and named after alumnus, veteran and former U.S. congressman G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, the center is housed in Nusz Hall, a 7,500-square-foot facility that opened in the fall of 2016. The building contains study rooms, a computer lab, office space and a lounge area where students can socialize.

Tommy and Terri Nusz, who both graduated from Mississippi State in 1982, contributed a significant gift that sparked construction of the building. The new facility helps the Center for America’s Veterans build on the legacy of service it started when it was founded over a decade ago.

Charles Pearman, a U.S. Navy veteran and a senior civil engineering major, said the center has allowed him to bond with veterans that have had similar life experiences.

Pearman knew he would be a nontraditional student when he enrolled at Mississippi State in 2015. On the first day, he was quickly reminded that he was older than most of the students in his freshman-level class.

“I walked into English comp, saw the instructor sitting there and I was like ‘Oh, Hey Chris, how’s it going,?’” Pearman recalled. “All the other students were like, ‘Do you know him?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we went to high school together.’ Then all the students were like ‘You’re old.’”

The connections he’s made at the center led to an internship with a renewable energy company, a field he has wanted to pursue since he was stationed in Hawaii.

“I would say 90 to 95 percent of my social interactions happen because of relationships I’ve formed through the center or the Student Veterans Association,” said Pearman, who currently serves as SVA president. “Having a place like this, where you can easily find those people, is very important because having that social aspect is crucial to getting through school.”

In addition to the challenges every student faces, veterans have their own small and large challenges to deal with when pursuing an education. To better help the university community understand and serve these students, the Center for America’s Veterans regularly holds Green Zone training sessions.

The training provides insight into veteran, service member and dependent transitioning difficulties, as well as active-listening tips and information about available resources. It also facilitates panel discussions with veterans for members of the university community who wish to better understand the veteran experience. After completing Green Zone training, faculty and staff members receive stickers that can be displayed in their offices to designate the space a veteran-friendly area.

Scales said the most important thing people can do for veterans is have patience and understanding.

“We don’t want to be treated like we’re special or looking for a handout, but a veteran needs a little extra patience, especially one that has had a contingency operation overseas,” Scales said. “To come back here and transition into normal civilian life is definitely a challenge.

“At a university, there’s a lot of evolving they have to do and sometimes they’re not used to that. They’re so used to structure and things being a certain way every day. But they bring good things to the table—leadership, for sure.”

Scales understands veterans who have seen combat can have difficulty transitioning to college, which is why the center partners with Student Counseling Services.

“The difficulty with that is sometimes veterans want to talk to veterans,” Scales said. “We can sit here and talk. They’re comfortable because of the camaraderie and the brotherhood that we share, which helps them know that things are going to be OK.”

In addition to helping veterans transition to civilian life, the center also assists reserve and active-duty service members with the logistics of preparing to leave for a tour of duty. When the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team of the Mississippi National Guard deploys in 2018, staff members will assist the deploying soldiers and provide them peace of mind by taking care of their dependents.

“We’ll take them under our wing,” Scales said. “It’s important for dependents to have someone they can come to, that they can trust, that’s actually responsible for them when their parents are away. We take care of them the same way we would our own children, and as a veteran myself, I have dependents that go to school here.”

By James Carskadon | Photos by Russ Houston | Video by David Garraway