By Katherine Burgess, Assistant Design Editor
While the majority of those attending Union University come fresh out of high school, a small segment of students come after serving in the military. Some have even served overseas.
Mark Waite, junior biblical languages major, is one of these students.
Waite served in the army from July 2006 to May 2011, spending one year of that time deployed in Iraq.
The transition from life in Iraq to life in the United States was difficult, Waite said.
“Out of a 12-month deployment, the 13th month was the hardest — so, the first month back,” Waite said. “When you’re readjusting (there are) a lot of emotions you’re going through. For me it was a lot of restlessness, kind of unsure of what to do with the free time I had all of a sudden.”
Other aspects of life in Iraq also affected Waite’s day-to-day routine at first. Seeing litter on the road would sometimes alarm him, Waite said, because in Iraq, insurgents often used garbage to hide improvised explosive devices.
“I found myself just scanning the street looking for wires, scanning the rooftops around me,” Waite said. “I kind of thought that was humorous, but at the same time I understood why I was doing it, and it just had to be worked out of my system.”
After returning to the U.S., Waite went on a mission trip to the Aleutian Islands, an experience he said helped him to work through his feelings about his time in Iraq.
Waite also took his stories and the stories of his friends and wrote a book, “Don’t Waste Your Deployment,” in which he wove together those stories with Scripture and encouragement.
“The deployment to Iraq was the most difficult thing I have ever had to live through, and in that wilderness experience Jesus Christ proved himself over and over again to be a precious and faithful friend to me,” Waite said.
“I wouldn’t trade the spiritual benefits and joy I reaped from Christ while deployed to Iraq for anything.”
Two years after returning from Iraq and about three months after leaving the U.S. Army, Waite enrolled at Union.
He chose the school on the recommendation of his pastor, a Union alumnus, and because people told him Union had a strong biblical studies program.
Going from life in the military to life at Union also was a significant change, Waite said.
He found his presence and actions could serve as a reminder of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in an American culture of forgetfulness.
“I think there is a general forgetfulness or maybe a denial that there was Iraq and Afghanistan,” Waite said. “So officially people are really appreciative and thankful, but unless they’ve seen a soldier and know a soldier, it’s just at the back of their minds.”
Waite wore his uniform at Union on Veterans Day, after debating whether he should.
“I decided that I should wear my uniform on Veterans Day just to bring awareness of the military to people here,” he said.
Professors who saw his uniform expressed appreciation for the military’s service to our country, he said. Waite said the students with whom he discussed his military service also expressed their gratitude. He also said the difference between his 24 years and the ages of most of his fellow students had been a good experience, one that led to him becoming a mentor to younger students.
“In the military I was with people my own age, so it’s kind of neat to be here and to use life experience that I gained in the military to be able to help students who might be going through things that I went through several years ago,” he said.