The Deputy Under Secretary of the Army, Mario A. Diaz, along with a number of other high-ranking veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, visited Santa Monica College (SMC) on Monday to tour the Veterans Success Center and learn about the many educational opportunities that are provided to make college affordable for student veterans.

“A very important strategic initiative is to reconnect our Army to the state of California,” said Diaz. “There are short term concerns that we have, namely recruiting, but we also have some long term ones. And those are the ones that I’m more passionate about, because they’re about building relationships.

“It’s about finding ways creatively to ensure that the opportunities for both sides of the relationship are understood and we work together mutually. So education, for me, is a key component of this.”

Joining Diaz and staff from SMC were Lt. Col. Johann Hindert, US Army Recruiting Battalion; Sonki Hong, formerly of Military Intelligence now Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army; Major Victor Shen, Strategic Officer Recruiting Detachment; Major Philip Song, Army Strategist; Kiersten Elliott, Dean of Community and Academic Relations; Grace Smith, SMC Director of Public Information; Anuj Gupta, Santa Monica Deputy City Manager; Kathryn Jeffery, President of SMC and Mayor Gleam Davis.

In a lengthy discussion session, the group shared ideas and thoughts on the benefits of improving the interaction between educational institutions and the U.S. Armed Forces for not only veterans returning to education, but also in the process of recruiting new talent and fresh, young minds.

“A lot of students come here for opportunities. They come to Santa Monica College because of financial difficulties or they don’t have a direction on what they want to do. So the Army can provide financial support for many,” Hong said.

“There’s also a misperception about what going into the Army means. It doesn’t mean you have to go into combat, you don’t have to be infantry and get put in harm’s way. There are over 150 jobs that you can do. You can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an intelligence officer or even an architect,” Hong said, adding, “You don’t even have to be full time, you could be part time as a reservist or National Guard.”

The gathered assembly was then given a tour of the Veterans Success Center at SMC, which serves veterans entering college either for the first time or returning to college to further their education. A number of educational pathways and opportunities are provided to make college affordable for student veterans, including ROTC, GI Bill, tuition assistance, degrees, certifications and credentials.

“There’s a natural nexus between four year programs or two year community college programs like Santa Monica College, because the army can help pay for various degrees and pay back student loans, but the career pathways that we offer, we offer something for everybody,” said Hindert.

“We have hundreds of career pathways, including medicine, law, engineering, almost any job you can think of in the civilian world, we offer a pathway for that,” Hindert said, adding, “The army is not necessarily for everybody, but every student should at least have the opportunity to know what pathways are out there for them and some of the benefits that are associated.”

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.