For most students, the first day of college means saying goodbye to your parents, a first taste of freedom, the first step toward independence and a career, and well, let’s be honest, one massive party. For those entering college for the first time after serving for the United States Military though, they have a different set of concerns and expectations for their college experience.
Lisa Burgess, a 48 year old English major and sociology minor, is returning to school for the first time in 25 years. After high school Burgess volunteered to defend her country by joining the United States Air Force (USAF). When asked about receiving support from family members Burgess said, “Family has always been supportive, but only after I accomplished years and certain goals—not so much when I first began each [military and college] adventure.
Burgess was originally interested in the military because she wanted an opportunity to travel around the world, and throughout her remarkable career in the USAF she did just that. Burgess served as a Special Military Intelligence Agent, which is also known as a spy. Various assignments during her career led Burgess on dangerous missions; she was often ordered to intercept top secret classified documents from our nation’s enemies. She also served as an Airborne Communications Officer on an EC 135 Aircraft. While serving, Burgess visited various destinations around the world; she has served in Okinawa Japan, Spain, and Portugal. Also, she has served in several departments within the USAF such as the RAF (Royal Air Force) Lakenheath, and RAF Mildenhall.
Being the only female on a crew of 12 men on “alert” in Portugal, was one of the hardest aspects for Burgess while in the military. She experienced sexual overtones on a normal basis. She had to work harder than most men during her career to receive the same respect. The worst experience Burgess had while serving was while she was stationed in Kuwait for 15 months. It wasn’t the climate or time away from home that made the visit hard; it was witnessing the deaths of women and children as well as her comrades that affected her the most.
After serving in the USAF, Burgess enrolled in college to continue her education in hopes of becoming a college professor. Burgess describes the initial entry into college as being very scary because of her age. She was concerned about being able to learn at the necessary level college requires in order to graduate. She also hates to fail at anything, and wanted to be able to conquer college the same way she had other obstacles in her life. The encouragement she received through being welcomed and accepted by “young people” has helped Burgess with the transition. She said, “They [young people] seem interested and impressed by me, but I don’t know why.”
When asked about the hardest part of the transition from the military to college Burgess replied, “Bringing my authoritative attitude and know-it-all mannerisms back to a civilian level of acceptance—I have super high expectations of myself and especially of others which tends to alienate me from a social crowd.”
Although her military attitude hinders her social interaction in college, she explains that the discipline the military required of her helps her with the organization, dedication and determination she needs to make good grades and to graduate college. Even though Burgess is thankful for all the military has taught her, she does feel that by returning to college at such a late period in her life, she in unable to experience and enjoy different and unique college functions.
The one aspect of the military that Burgess wants people to understand is that it is necessary. Despite political differences in opinion on its relevance and function, Burgess is adamant about the educational benefits the military has to offer as well and the opportunity to broaden a person’s world cultural view. She also wants people to know what an important role women actually play in the military because their involvement is often overlooked. Burgess stated, “Women do contribute more than they are given credit for—but it is a self contained society with strict, rigid rules that make it hard for the people who leave the military to re-enter civilian society.” There are few programs established to guide military members back into the routine of civilian life.
When asked about Burgess’ overall perspective of her military career she proudly said, “I wouldn’t trade my military career for anything, but I wish I could find a way to be less authoritative in voice and manners so I not be seen as a bitter, bossy and antagonizing person; this actually is what keeps me at odds with my son, my family and others. Men find this attitude to be aggressive and they don’t want to date me because they feel threatened by my independence and frankness.”
I have been fortunate enough to have a class here at Western with Ms. Burgess. I am among the many who find her to be interesting and impressive; anyone who can say they were a real spy is ok in my book! Most older adults that I have had class with try too hard to impress the professor and to “fit in” with the younger students as if they need to prove themselves because of their age. I believe that Ms. Burgess’ authoritative and independent attitude younger students are able to respect her more because she views us as equal and not as children. I for one respect and appreciate all the time Burgess has spent serving our country as well as the contribution she is making and will continue to make as a college professor. Thank you Lisa Burgess, for all you have done, and all you wish you do.