At just 17 years old, fresh out of high school, Sam Manchester walked into a recruiting office in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Thirteen weeks later, when he turned 18, he became a Marine. Manchester enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in August of 2010 with one dream in mind: “I wanted to help people.” He had no idea then, but the following years would shape him.
Before enlisting, Manchester had already seen his own fair share of trials and tribulations. He was born in Tallinn, Estonia and was adopted by an American family at the age of 10. New to everything that is the United States of America, Manchester had to learn to adapt. Soon after getting comfortable with his new family, he moved to Vermont from the southern U.S. Life here was exciting and felt like being home again, in Estonia. “I loved that it felt like home. The cold, the snow, the people, it all felt like home.” Upon graduating from high school, he made a decision to join the Marines. “I wanted to earn something. I wanted to feel proud of my accomplishment,” he said. “Becoming a Marine is not something just anyone can do.”
It was three years later that Manchester found out that his unit was deploying to Afghanistan. “I signed up on a volunteer list. When I got the call I was shocked and excited. I knew it was going to be an interesting experience but I didn’t know what to expect.” He spent six months in Afghanistan. There are many skills he carries with him from his time in the Marines. One of those is an ability to make quick judgments. “When it came to making decisions, whether they were hard ones or not, a split second could save a life,” he said. “I carry that with me everywhere.”
After his tour, Manchester came back to the U.S. ready to begin a new chapter. In the fall of 2016, he decided to become a student at CCV. He says he chose the College for its learning environment. “CCV has small classes. Reintegration into the civilian world is not easy. Going to a bigger institution, I feel like I would have faced more challenges,” he said. “The atmosphere of CCV is more comfortable.” Manchester was also able to transfer several credits from his military career that helped fulfill some of his graduation requirements. He has a clear goal in mind. “I want to pursue a degree in psychology. I’d like to become part of the VA and work with vets as a psychologist.”
Providing comprehensive support for veteran and military students is a priority for CCV. Kyle Aines, one of two Veteran and Military Resource Advisors at the College, is a veteran himself and works hard to help fellow veterans returning to school find their place. “I spend a lot of time talking with vets about what [benefits] they are eligible for and how best to use them based on [their] needs. I help them navigate the application process. We talk about what classes they can or cannot take based on their GI Bill.” Aines says he believes that for many students, this kind of assistance can be empowering. His experience as a non-traditional student who integrated back into the civilian world helps him better understand the students he now serves. His love for fellow veterans and active duty military personnel coupled with his deep passion to help others has led him dutifully from the army, through college, and to the Veteran & Military Services team here at CCV.
CCV enrolls over 400 veteran and military-connected students each semester. Some enroll in a single class; others, like Manchester, decide to pursue a degree. CCV is proud to work with an increasing number of veterans like Manchester, and provide them with the support and guidance they need to be successful in college and in their careers.
Throughout his first year at CCV, Sam Manchester has focused on improving himself through education and also as a part of the larger veteran community. He has made it his own personal and professional mission to help reduce the number of veteran suicides. “Veteran suicide is an epidemic, and it can be prevented,” he said. “Bringing the community and the veterans together is important. Working together gives veterans a sense of purpose.” Just recently, Sam and fellow veteran Zack Steele walked 72 miles in 72 hours to raise awareness about suicide rates among veterans. They started out in Newport and ended at the recruiting office in South Burlington. According to Mission 22, a national platform for awareness of veteran suicide, 22 servicemen and servicewomen commit suicide every day in America. In Manchester’s words, “that is 22 too many.”
Manchester returned from the war, but like most veterans, part of him remained on the battlefield. He has done everything in his power to stay involved with the military. In the summer of 2017, he participated in the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment games. He was one of 200 Marines with physical, mental, and emotional scars to take to the field and participate in Olympic-style games. He is currently training for the 2018 Marine Corps Trials, to be held in the spring. There are many benefits of bringing vets together, but for Manchester, the most notable is simply friendship. “I like to reconnect with the brothers I served with; it’s camaraderie. It helps me deal with the issues I face day-to-day and I am able to connect with people who understand. A sense of belonging and purpose are the best things you can take away from being in the military. It connects us.”
Heather Baraw came to CCV in 2014 as an Administrative Assistant for Newport and the Center for Online Learning. She is currently seeking her master’s degree in educational technology at Northern Vermont University and is focusing her studies on veterans in higher education.