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2016 November 24 - 06:14 am

Wash. Veteran Takes On Navigator Role

Former Linguist Helps Vets Make It Into and Through College

MOSES LAKE, Wash. (AP) — When George Turner left the Air Force, he found himself missing “meaningful work.”

As the new Vet Corps navigator at Big Bend Community College, where Turner is studying computer science, he finds himself again doing something important — helping former members of the military make their way into and through college.

“It’s good to be in a position to help fellow vets,” he said.

A Russian linguist for more than 15 years, the 37-year-old Turner left the military earlier than he hoped because of an injury. An Air Force “brat,” he didn’t really have a home to return to, so he promised his wife — a native of Wenatchee — they’d settle someplace closer to her home.

He enrolled in the computer science program at Big Bend Community College because he liked “problem solving.” But he didn’t really find work that gave him a purpose until he started helping other vets.

“The term navigator is a fluffy term that means whatever I choose to make it,” he said. “What I’ve chosen to do is educate myself about all the programs open to veterans — federal, state, and local — that can help them get and complete an education.”

The Vet Corps program, which is currently funded by a grant from Americorps, is unique to Washington state, and Turner is one of only 50 statewide. The position is designed not just to help veterans navigate higher education, but also to educate college administrators about the special needs veterans have.

Turner spends a lot of time meeting with service providers and getting to know them, building up relationships that allow him to do what he calls “a warm hand-off” with a veteran who needs something. He’ll make phone calls and connect vets directly with someone who can help them, rather than simply giving them a name and phone number to call.

“I find people are more likely to get in touch that way,” he said.

One of the things Turner said he’s gotten good at, and really enjoys, is helping veterans find the resources and programs that will help pay for more than four years of college education — something specifically important for many technical programs.

The veterans at BBCC are also raising funds for the college’s food pantry, which helps students who cannot afford groceries.

In the spring, Turner said the veterans at BBCC are going to stage a “combat golf tournament” fundraiser at Lava Links in Soap Lake. A rough course similar to that his unit had when he was stationed in Iraq, Turner said each participant would get a putter and a nine iron and have to adhere to the silly rules for each hole.

“For example, one hole would be approached only from the sniper position, you’d have to putt prone, and use the putter like a pool cue,” he said.

All proceeds from the golf tournament would go to fund the Viking Food Pantry.

Turner is really enjoying his work, and hopes to continue doing this as long as he is studying at BBCC, and possibly beyond, when he transfers to a four-year school to complete his degree.

“It’s good for me to get out and get involved in the community,” he said. “It helps me get a broader picture.”

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