Passing them on campus, Bill Kinnard and Matthew Gary look like typical Tech students going about their day, toting their work in backpacks and exchanging laughs with friends on South Patio. However, their stories of college life are far from typical.Along with being students, Kinnard and Gary are both in the U.S. military and have served in Iraq. While both have handled their dual roles in society differently, the two tell a similar story of attaining success from their experiences as students and soldiers.
Kinnard, 30, joined the Tennessee National Guard in 1997 with the intent of paying his college tuition. While admitting his hesitance about joining, Kinnard said his days in the military have served him well.
“Even though I don’t like the fact that men and women are having to sacrifice their lives doing what they’re doing for their country,” Kinnard said. “I have to admit that that deployment was probably one of the best things that happened in my life, because of the way I am now versus the way I was then.”
After serving a couple years in the Guard and then two more years in school at Tech, Kinnard was deployed to Iraq in 2004 to work in intelligence operations.
During his deployment he witnessed a third world country where children with bare feet walked around in the sands of impoverished villages. Here, the citizens did not have sufficient medical supplies and were trucked weekly loads of water that were poured into a large, exposed reservoir.
“Just seeing all of that stuff that goes on in the villages is motivation itself that makes you appreciate what you have back in the states,” Kinnard said. “Just makes you want to better yourself. If you see things like that, you don’t want your family to go through that. It just motivates me.”
“When you’re over there, you don’t have anything but time to think. You’re either on a mission or you’re just hanging out in your quarters with nothing to do but think about ‘what am I going to do when I get home?’ or ‘where’s my life led up to at this point?'”
Kinnard stayed in Iraq working on operations with his unit until the winter of 2005. Though his transition from student to being on active duty went smoothly, he said the adjustment to civilian and college life was a tumultuous one.
“Coming back to the states, landing in the airport, there’s just people everywhere,” Kinnard said. “Nobody is in a uniform and people are living normal lives. It was a little different, so it took me a couple of days to adjust.”
His first semester back was the spring semester of 2006. That term, Kinnard found himself adjusting to the culture shock.
“My first semester back at Tech was a little hard,” Kinnard said. “It was just hard to relate to people. I changed a lot while I was over there. It took me that first semester to get back into being a civilian. Being at this university actually had a lot to do with helping me along, because I interacted with a lot of people.”
In the fall of 2006, Kinnard became more comfortable in his backpack and jeans and started trying new things at Tech. It was then that he joined ROTC and the fraternity of which he is now the president, Kappa Alpha.
Through his travels in boots and tennis shoes, leaves advise to the weary student to “pick up your chin and move forward” and said that following the old advice of surrounding yourself in motivated peole is key in life.
Kinnard will be graduating in December and is getting married in January. He will be reentering the National Guard, while searching for a job in engineering and production layout.
Ironically enough, Gary, the 25 year-old Kappa Alpha pledge, is the little brother of his fraternity President, but the lesser-aged Gary shows as much experience in his military-college lifestyle.
Gary started at Tech out of high school in 2001 and joined a fraternity that eventually went under. After getting his freshman feet wet in academics, Gary talked with a friend who was serving in the Army and decided to switch gears in his life-and in his young mentality.
“When I was 18, I went to Iraq for the first time,” Gary said. “So it was kind of a young age to see the graphic stuff you’d see over there during times of war. You kind of grow up faster than most people do that don’t have to grow up with that.”
Gary spent four years in active duty with two tours of Iraq. While in Iraq, he worked as a Supply Sergeant who was accountable for supplying his fellow soldiers with various supplies ranging from food to pens and pencils to GPS systems and ammunition. Throughout his four years of active duty, he lived with a very simple philosophy that the military, for him, is another nine-to-five part of life.
“The military is just a job like anybody else,” Gary said. “I’ve had people come up to me and they’re like, ‘thank you for doing what you do and serving our country.’ I am just like, ‘well, what do you do?’ and they tell me.”
“Then I am like, ‘well, thank you for doing that.’ Everybody’s got their role, and without everybody doing their particular job, society wouldn’t be what it is. So, it’s just a job to me, even thought (mine) may be a little more dangerous than some.”
The transitions from college to military and then military to college was a smooth one due to ROTC.
“Transitioning in the mindset from military to student or from student back to military is not really difficult for me, because of the fact that we do have military courses on campus,” Gary said. “We do it along with being a student, so you’re kind of in both mind sets at both times.”
As he was having to work and go to school due to changing from active duty pay rates to non-active became his biggest challenge, Gary said time management was the hardest part of his transition.