Kyra Daley, James Sellers and Joe Rowell may have come from different areas of the country and served different roles in the military, but this does not diminish the similarities in the lessons the three University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students learned from their service.
Daley, a native of Arizona, enlisted as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1990. She then served as a Surface Warfare Officer, working on ships as a deck officer, engineering officer and a ship’s navigator for the Second Fleet Commander.
When she joined the Navy, it was the first year following the repeal of combat exclusion laws, meaning women were given more opportunities to serve alongside male counterparts in different warfighting roles.
“I had a division that I was responsible for—just over 100 people—and most of them had never had to work around females in their Navy career,” Daley said. “I went into an environment initially in my career where I was outnumbered.”
She accumulated a lot of experience throughout her career, later working in public affairs and for a Major Defense Acquisition Program developing the next-generation fighter jet.
Daley said there were several benefits to joining the military.
“I thought that it would be a great way to serve my country and also obtain a high-quality education,” she said, “and just learn a lot about myself and travel the world.”
Daley is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work to one day work with veterans. She explained that the military often motivates veterans’ careers.
“Many either are associated with helping professions where they continue to give back to their community,” she explained, “or they are learning about the context of warfighting and what that’s done to our country on a bigger scale.”
This holds true for James Sellers, who decided to double major in history and anthropology at UTC to learn more about the variety of different cultures he encountered in the military.
“I didn’t realize how much I loved anthropology until I figured out what anthropology was,” said Sellers, a sergeant while on active duty and now a staff sergeant in the Army Reserves. “I’ve always had this huge interest in it; I just didn’t know the name of it. It goes hand in hand with the military as well. Anthropology deals with other cultures.”
Sellers, from Jasper, Tennessee, enlisted in the Army in 2010 and did four years of active duty in Fort Moore, Georgia—formerly known as Fort Benning. He used his G.I. Bill for his wife, who received a degree in engineering.
For the most part, Sellers said he pursues his education as a hobby. Still, he has used his time as a student to help those in the Veteran and Military Affairs Student Ambassador Program, which provides veteran and military students with mentors to help them transition into college and resources to help them succeed.
Sellers explained that he mentors all students on campus, especially those younger than him.
“I feel like I’ve definitely been a mentor to some of the younger ones than me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from some of the younger generations that helped me understand things and teach them new things.”
Former U.S. Army Master Sergeant Joe Rowell is also pursuing a “hobby degree.” The history major said he quickly got bored of fishing when he retired two years ago.
“I’m not coming here for a degree. I’m coming here because I’m bored and I want to learn,” said Rowell, known by his friends as “Joe Ro from Idaho.”
Initially joining a peacetime Army in 1999, Rowell’s life quickly became more intense when the 9/11 attacks happened while he was deployed in Bosnia.
“That went from a very low-order peacekeeping mission to pretty high intensity overnight,” he said.
He got his combat infantryman’s badge in Afghanistan in 2005 and spent several years deploying as a warfighter.
Rowell worked in several roles—from an engineer to a paratrooper—before retiring as a master sergeant.
After all the excitement and danger Rowell endured in the military, he described college as quite enjoyable.
“As a veteran, you come back to education and it’s definitely not the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” he explained. “The assignments are just the assignments, the homework is just the homework. You buckle down, you just get it done.”
Daley has a similar outlook on college as a veteran. After accumulating so much life experience and seeing different parts of the world, she explained, it is easy to return to civilian life and try new things.
“You just feel like you’re a broad learner,” she said.
Sellers discovered parallels between his college experience and the military service, saying both exposed him to diverse perspectives and experiences. He encourages people to embrace this aspect of education and life.
“You’re mixed with all sorts of different people, different backgrounds, different beliefs. It’s not something to be feared or something that’s strange and unknown,” he said. “You get out and experience things and you find that it’s not so bad.”
Rowell’s time in the military required him to conquer difficult situations. Doing this, he said, has become one of his most important rules for life.
“It’s really important to do hard things because the hardest thing you’ve ever done is the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” he explained, “and before you can get good at something, you have to suck at it first.”
Daley added, “You also need to learn to fail gracefully, fail with dignity, pick yourself up and realize that it’s going to grow you, make you more competent and make you more willing to learn things. You don’t have to be perfect out of the gate.”
Daley, Sellers and Rowell have families they tend to outside school. Even with their busy, conflicting schedules, they find time to spend together in the Veteran and Military Affairs office.
“It’s a great place that brings us together,” Daley said. “We can talk about our relative experiences and perceptions about being a student.”