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Student Veterans Bring Leadership, Fitness and Fun to Campus


It happened in a big way at the end of World War II - soldiers headed home from the frontlines and into the classroom.

Again, the number of veterans on college campuses around the nation is expected to increase as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. 

Some 2,200 students are currently using their VA education benefits to attend the University of South Florida said Ray Mollison, president of the USF Student Veterans Association (SVA). Of those, 1,700 are active veteran students and 1,200 are on the Tampa campus.

Mollison, an Army veteran who did two tours in Iraq, said his time in the military taught him leadership, especially when he was deployed.

He is now focusing those leadership skills on his goal to dramatically increase the number of student veterans who participate in the SVA.

Mollison said about a dozen or so student veterans regularly attend meetings. His goal is to reach dozens if not hundreds of those existing veteran students.

“We do not believe that we have reached our potential,” Mollison said. “We want to really get everyone to recognize, especially the student veterans, that you’re not alone.”

He said the SVA can help veterans integrate into civilian life and college classes.

“We’re going to make your college experience fun,” Mollison said.

“The tempo is really the hardest thing to adjust to because you’re so used to being on the go, constantly. You’ve got to be here, you’ve got to be there,” Mollison said. “You don’t have that anymore. It’s like 'what do I do with myself?'”

Physical and social activities are the solution, according to Mollison, who also works with Team Red White and Blue, which reconnects veterans with their communities using those activities.

So, Mollison and USF student veterans gather weekly for some type of physical activity, whether it’s a walk/run and sharing a beer afterward or playing on a softball team. Later this summer, he hopes to field student veteran football and soccer teams too.

The USF student veterans also are volunteering to help at the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games July 13-18 in Tampa.

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