As a Guard Member on Active Duty Special Work (ADSW) in 2010, Brian Wright used to drive by Westminster every day on his way to work at the Fulton Armory, down the street from campus. Without a college degree, he’d served our country in the Missouri National Guard.
“I just stopped in one day and asked,” Wright says. “What do I have to do to go to school?”
“I’d never taken the ACT or SAT in my life,” he says. “I didn’t even know if I’d have to.”
With help from Westminster’s Admissions and Financial Aid staff, he quickly found out he didn’t have to, and by taking a chance and walking in the door at Westminster, Wright put his new future into motion – finding the support he needed to complete college and find a new direction for his life.
Young and Military-Focused
As a student at Mexico High School, only 30 minutes from Westminster, Wright had no question about what his future would be like straight out of high school. He signed up for the National Guard his junior year.
Raised by his mother and grandmother, he didn’t have a direct father figure, which he thinks influenced his attraction to military life. He felt a connection with his grandfather, who had died before he was born. Wright took pride in the fact that his grandfather had served in World War II, taking part in D-Day, and that his father had served in Vietnam.
“I loved everything about the military,” says Wright about his idealistic vision as a teen. “I loved being outside, in the woods. I loved everything I saw in the movies.”
Through the Guard’s Split Training Option, he spent the summer between his junior and senior years in Basic Combat Training. His senior year, he dutifully wore his uniform to school once a month, plus spent one weekend a month training with his local unit.
After high school graduation in 1991, Wright spent five years in military service. Joining the Army and gaining military police (MP) experience, he traveled to Panama, Korea, Germany, and Iraq.
In 1996, when his enlistment was up, he returned to civilian life in the U.S.
“I took whatever jobs I could find,” he says. “What were my options without a degree?”
From loading trucks to working in factories, he quickly moved from whatever position he started, but the jobs weren’t fulfilling.
“I didn’t want to do that kind of stuff any more,” he says.
A New Direction
In 2005, Wright returned to military service in the Missouri National Guard.
After deploying to Afghanistan in 2010 with the 1140th MP unit in Fulton, he was working at the Armory full time when he stopped one day at Westminster to ask about getting his degree.
Wright says he thought about other, larger universities, but that he immediately felt welcomed at Westminster. As a military-friendly, Yellow Ribbon school, Westminster was helpful with his GI Bill benefits and even gave him college credit for some courses he had taken through the military.
Wright credits Westminster’s small size as particularly supportive for veterans and active Guard duty. “Everyone was understanding about me still be in the service. As a small school, Westminster had the freedom to be accommodating, so I could make up material,” he says.
During his Westminster career, he volunteered to serve in Egypt as a Multinational Forces Observer and deployed to Egypt during the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Wright was also periodically called up for state emergency guard duty, helping through floods, ice storms, and the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, MO. Throughout it all, he remained focused on his goal of a college degree.
“I had ups and downs, like any college student,” Wright says. “But overall, it was great.”
He says that support from Karen Tompson-Wolfe and Cathy Pesce in Westminster’s Tomnitz Family Learning Opportunities Center (LOC) and from Dr. Bob Hansen, associate professor and organizational leadership coordinator was instrumental in his success.
“Without the LOC, I would have dropped out,” he says. “They were a huge part of my success.”
Hansen and Pesce helped Wright prepare a plan for a self-designed major in Industrial Organization Leadership, a major that well fit Wright’s military career. Wright graduated in December 2015, accomplishing his goal. He’s currently back with the National Guard full-time, but this go-around has different career opportunities within the Guard open to him, thanks to his Westminster degree.
Hansen reflects on Wright’s journey at Westminster with admiration and appreciation for the experience and insight that Wright added to campus.
“Brian’s been in the military for many years, has been deployed all over the world, including stints in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is an instructor in the Army’s resiliency training program,” says Hansen. “He has been a leader in our campus club for military veterans.”
“Large classrooms, a large environment can be overwhelming for vets,” says Wright. “Westminster makes getting your degree manageable.”