Instead of saying goodbye to high school friends, packing up his childhood bedroom and buying decorations for his dorm room before coming to Bowdoin, Elijah Dumdie ’25 was trading in his army-issued uniform for a gray L.L. Bean jacket and saying goodbye to his fellow soldiers. Dumdie then drove 1000 miles across the country from Fort Campbell, Ky., three days after being discharged from active-duty military service.
Dumdie is one of three student veterans, a small but significant cohort, on campus. In 2018, the College began an initiative to actively recruit student veterans by partnering with Service to School, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans transition from the military to college and graduate school.
“To date, we have had a total of three U.S. veterans who have matriculated … However, we’ve taken advantage of virtual offerings to expand our recruitment efforts,” Senior Vice President and Dean of Financial Aid Claudia Marroquin ’06 wrote in an email to the Orient. “For example, we had a total of seven prospective veterans who participated in our virtual fall Explore Program which included programming tailored to the cohort as well as general programming with other prospective students.”
After graduating high school in Port Angeles, Wash., Dumdie decided to embark on an alternative path prior to college. Knowing he wanted to pursue a career in medicine, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a 68W Combat Medic/Healthcare Specialist. During his time in the military, he especially enjoyed the personal aspect of combat medicine, oftentimes acting as a mental health resource for his fellow servicemen.
“[After] working with patients, especially in the hospital, I realized that half of anything in medicine is counseling,” Dumdie said. “Every time I had a patient at the hospital or even in the field, half it was just listening to someone talk and helping them navigate medical problems and things they’re thinking about … I find it really rewarding.”
For fellow student veteran Greg Wallace ’24, enlisting in the Navy after high school was a continuation of a generations-long family tradition of military service. Wallace worked as an Arabic linguist after attending intensive Arabic training courses in California for a year and a half. He then transferred to Navy Information Operations Command at Fort Gordon in Georgia for six and a half years.
Serving in the Navy fueled Wallace’s interest in taking college-level courses and instilled in him strong disciplinary skills—something he didn’t have coming out of high school.
“It’s not that [the military] teach[es] you how to be disciplined … [it] force[s] you to be disciplined, or you can’t function well there. That was the best thing for me,” Wallace said. “I think being in a job where I had to go to school for a long time, like the language school, that definitely sparked an interest in wanting to improve academically and start taking college classes while I was in.”
While all of the student veterans’ reasons for choosing Bowdoin were as varied as their military backgrounds, they were all attracted to the College’s sense of community. Although they were initially concerned about connecting with peers that are up to ten years their junior, the cohort emphasized that the College—both admissions and students—has made the social transition as smooth as possible.
“I have not met a single person that’s made me feel weird about [my military service],” Dumdie said. “I don’t actually talk about it much … I don’t want to make it my identity by any means. But a lot of people seem interested in it, so they will ask a ton of questions about it.”
Wallace was especially drawn to the College’s opportunities relating to public service and involvement in the community and other activities outside of classes.
“When you’re at work in the military, it’s all about just getting the mission done,” Wallace said. “Bowdoin really encourages people to get involved outside of the classroom as much as possible.”
For each of the student veterans, confronting stereotypes about the military has been a large part of their post-military experience both at Bowdoin and beyond. Andrew Hall ’22 explained that misconceptions about serving in the military was one of the largest culture shocks he experienced when coming to Bowdoin.
“When [people] hear military, they picture someone in the army with a gun … They [imagine] what they see in the movies,” Hall said. “I was a firefighter and then when [people] hear that they’re like, ‘that’s not military,’ and I’m like, ‘I was an aircraft firefighter.’”
Though they all come from various service backgrounds, Dumdie, Hall and Wallace bring nuanced perspectives to the College—just like any other Bowdoin student.
“[Us veterans are] just people, we were just in the military,” Wallace said. “But we are people just like [other students].”