For military veterans, college can be a different world.
No one is likely to understand that better than Lt. Col. Brian Locke (U.S. Army, retired). Locke, a Tennessee native, spent 23 years in the military and earned three degrees while serving.
“For so many military veterans, college is a different kind of environment for them,” Locke said. “They are older than the typical college student. They don’t have the parental support, so they are in this on their own. Some have families of their own. They have their own unique challenges.”
This week, Locke was named as the permanent director of the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans at Mississippi State University after serving in that role on an interim basis since early 2017. Prior to that, he served as a professor of military science and department head for MSU’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
“Brian is dedicating the next stage in his life to helping those students who also have sacrificed for this state and nation,” said MSU Dean of Students Thomas Bourgeois. “I am confident that Mississippi State’s prestige as a university that serves and supports our student veterans, dependents and survivors will only continue to thrive and grow.”
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Locke said. “I’m so appreciative of the commitment Mississippi State has made to its veterans.”
Part of that commitment includes the 7,500-square foot veterans center at Nusz Hall. Opened in 2016, the facility features student support spaces, a computer lab, study rooms, a meeting area, administrative offices, lounge area and outdoor patio space. The building honors the legacy of the late Congressman G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Locke said. “It’s a great facility in the central part of campus, a real testament to what the military folks mean to Mississippi State.”
The primary work of the veterans center is to assist veterans as they transition into the educational environment as well as access educational benefits. Locke said reaching out to veterans and their dependents in the broader community is also an important part of the center’s work.
“The vast majority of what we do is to help them process the VA benefits they have earned,” he said. “The majority are eligible for benefits of the 9/11 G.I. Bill and, more recently the Forever G.I. Bill. Some are getting state benefits. Processing those benefits can be difficult, so that’s a big part of what we do — helping them navigate through those processes.”
Locke said some veterans are surprised to learn that their dependents are also eligible for education benefits as well. There is also the out-of-state tuition waiver Mississippi State offers veterans.
“Getting the word out to veterans is a big part of what we do,” he said.
Mississippi State is rated a Top 50 university for veterans by Military Times and recently earned the 2018 Military Friendly Schools Gold Status for its veteran-oriented campus culture. MSU also was designated a “Purple Heart University” in 2015 by the Military Order of the Purple Heart for outstanding service to military veterans, service members, dependents and survivors.
With the new spacious facility, Locke said the center is taking a more aggressive role in reaching out to veteran groups off campus to build those relationships.
“We want them to know that we’re here and want to partner with them,” Locke said. “We want them to be involved with us and what we do and we want to be involved in what they do, too.”
Although the new center has helped MSU in its work with veterans, Locke said the biggest asset the center has is its staff.
“The building is wonderful,” Locke said. “But it’s the people who make the place. We have a great staff that really makes every effort to make sure every student veteran is taken care of. Every student is different, with different needs and challenges. I think that’s what makes our staff so effective. They understand that.”