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Archive for Tuesday, August 18, 2009

KU strengthens military programs

August 18, 2009

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Wes Fine, who was injured in Iraq in 2005, is now pursuing his master’s degree at Kansas University through a Army program called Wounded Warriors.

Wes Fine, who was injured in Iraq in 2005, is now pursuing his master’s degree at Kansas University through a Army program called Wounded Warriors.

Adrian Lewis sees it as greatly expanding the toolbox.

An Army officer is stationed in Afghanistan and charged with running and rebuilding a small city.

At his disposal could be a public administration manual published on the Internet and developed by Kansas University faculty on starting up municipal services.

The manual could be translated into the Farsi language to help with the transition as the Army officer, who took graduate classes at KU while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, can put into practice what he learned in Kansas to help people around the world.

“What we’re doing is good for the country. It has major implications,” said Lewis, director of KU’s Office of Military Graduate Education.

Lewis is a leader in one of the university’s major initiatives in its relationship with the military, mainly Fort Leavenworth, home to the Army’s Command and General Staff College. KU’s ties to the military have gained steam over the last few years, and it became one of former Chancellor Robert Hemenway’s legacies in the final years of tenure leading KU.

“It’s not a one-way street in either direction. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Lewis, who also is a KU history professor and retired Army major.

The university’s partnership with Fort Leavenworth covers a broad spectrum, from faculty teaching Special Forces officers to journalism students helping Army officers with mock press conferences to wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan pursuing graduate degrees at KU.

The 2009-2010 academic year promises to be another busy one in this working partnership.

Wounded Warriors

From indirect fire, shrapnel pierced Wes Fine’s face and upper body when he served in Iraq during 2005.

The Army captain worked to recover, but eventually doctors had to remove his left eye. After he was injured Fine (pronounced Fi-nay) had a hard time adjusting the civilian life.

He had already earned a bachelor’s degree in justice administration, but when he returned home to Hawaii, Fine had a difficult time finding a job. He wanted to be a police officer or a prison guard, but due to his injuries, he couldn’t get very far in the job application process.

“It is not only demoralizing, gosh, it’s really depressing, especially when you were in charge of a lot of people and you’ve done a lot of things in the Army. You come home, and you have difficulty finding employment,” said Fine, who now is 29.

Suddenly his luck changed. Fine qualified for a new Army program, called Wounded Warriors. Wounded soldiers get their graduate studies at KU paid for by the Army, and in return, the graduates agree to take a job as a military employee for three years to every 12 months the Army pays for.

Fine is now taking classes at KU, pursuing a graduate degree in international studies. He hopes to finish his thesis in time to graduate in December. He’s on track to teach at Fort Leavenworth when he finishes his degree.

Lewis said the program has flourished at KU last year, as Fine and six other Wounded Warriors were participating. The Army also wanted to expand the program to include five more soldiers this year.

“I just feel like I’ve gotten lucky. This is the best program I think out there the Army has,” Fine said. “It’s a great privilege. Everything is pretty much taken care of.”

Strategic training

KU’s partnership with the Army and Fort Leavenworth expands beyond the Wounded Warriors program.

Since 2003, leaders at KU and Fort Leavenworth have held discussions and worked toward an agreement on an educational partnership, where Army students learn from KU faculty members.

“They benefit from what we have to offer. We benefit from the broadened view they can provide us,” said Barbara Romzek, the associate dean for social and behavioral sciences at KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Lewis, who came to KU from the University of North Texas, said the partnership differs from stereotypes about the military not being welcome amid student protests, especially during the Vietnam era.

Generally, people who work at KU and live in Kansas are more supportive of the military, he said. The state has two Army military bases at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley, plus the McConnell Air Force base near Wichita.

“Most of the time (faculty members) are very willing to work with the military,” Lewis said.

KU faculty members have a history teaching Fort Leavenworth soldiers, and the relationship is becoming more prevalent. The program recently received a $2 million federal earmark that will allow KU to hire four new faculty members to be able to teach public administration, political science, business and history to Special Forces officers.

Army officers are having to expand their horizons to learn languages and management tactics in communities due to the challenges of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military has had to fight insurgents and also help civilians there.

“We have the best Army in the world when it comes to breaking things,” Lewis said. “Now they are trying to reorient where they can fix things.”

That’s where the Army can benefit from the tools KU can offer in its many academic departments.

Romzek will be teaching a public administration course with Holly Goerdel, a KU assistant professor of public administration, at Fort Leavenworth this fall, and law professor John Head will teach the second half of the course.

“The smarter they are, the better equipped they are, and the better job they are able to do,” Romzek said.

Lewis also hopes KU can expand its partnership to other branches of the military. He said the Army will see the upside of the relationship as more of its officers are sent into war-torn countries like Afghanistan to try and rebuild communities from the ground up.

“That’s where KU comes in,” Lewis said.

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