SCC Alumnus, Somerset Native Makes a Difference for Kentucky Veterans Through Writing | SCC

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SCC Alumnus, Somerset Native Makes a Difference for Kentucky Veterans Through Writing

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Travis Martin while serving in Iraq in 2003
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Travis Martin while filming his oral history for the University of Kentuckys Combat to Kentucky oral history program

Somerset native Travis Martin is all too familiar with the challenges faced by veterans who choose to further their education after serving our country.

Martin, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, faced those challenges when he returned from the service. He has since committed himself to making a difference for other veterans by giving them a place to turn for help, as well as an outlet for their stories about war and the service.

Martin lived most of his life in Somerset and graduated from Pulaski County High School in 2002. He enrolled in Somerset Community College, but lasted only two weeks. After dropping out, he served in the Army until 2006. After his discharge, Martin re-enrolled at SCC and received his associates degree before transferring to Eastern Kentucky University. At EKU, Martin received his bachelors in English and his masters degree in English Literature. He is now working on a Ph.D. in English at the University of Kentucky.

I was really focused on school after I got out of the Army, said Martin. I looked at it as a choice: either excel or go back to the service. I was lucky to have great professors at SCC who mentored me and made sure I stayed on track. I knew I wanted to study English, but I didnt know what I would do with an English degree. I figured Id probably end up homeless one day; but at least I would be able to study something I loved. Now, Ive found a new passion in teaching. I figure, if I can go from being a college drop-out to a Ph.D. student, so can others with the proper help.

Martin said two English professors Lynn Shearer and Wanda Fries were essential to his success as a student at SCC. When he got to Eastern Kentucky University, though, he noticed that veterans didnt have a place dedicated to help them face the obstacles he had overcome as a student. So, he sought to create change.

Being a veteran and returning to school can be difficult, Martin said. A lot of vets come out of war zones that are intense, requiring life and death decisions on a daily basis. Writing a paper or taking a test often seems unimportant to these veterans after what they've faced in the field. Many have emotional issues and post-traumatic stress they're dealing with. They have the skills and experience needed to excel, but they need the time and resources to readjust.

During his undergraduate work, Martin and a few others started talking about the need for a space where veterans could be together. Those conversations eventually led to the creation of the EKU Veterans Education and Transition Support (VETS) organization, a branch of Student Veterans of America. Martin served as the founding president of the group, coordinating with school officials as they instituted the Student Outreach and Transition office (SOTO), a one-stop-shop for non-traditional students and veterans. Student veterans at EKU can now be found studying and conversing in SOTOs Vets Lounge on any given day.

While working on his masters degree, Martin taught a veterans introduction to college course and English as a second language. He tailored his orientation course specifically to the needs of returning veterans, providing information about how to succeed in college, but also about how to succeed in civilian life.

It was while teaching his fellow vets that Martin founded The Journal of Military Experience, which is now an award-winning publication. The journal, honored in December by the Student Veterans of America, is a 135-page book filled with 29 stories, poems and artwork from 19 EKU students who served in the military.

I thought something like this could be inspirational, educational and a good outlet for Vets, said Martin. I started shopping the idea around and got it funded through the College of Justice and Safety and the Student Government Association.

Martin is now working on the second volume of the JMEfunded by the proceeds from the first volume and one of fourteen national literacy grants awarded by the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phiwhich he projects will be released in July.

Everyone has a story to tell, Martin said. This is an outreach program. Veterans can come to us and well help them tell their stories in a way that makes sense to themselves and to the general public. We want out veteran authors to put their best foot forward in our publication.

Although he's short on time due to his teaching and Ph.D. responsibilities, Martin still serves as the editor for the project. Wanda Fries, one of Martins former mentors and current SCC English professor, serves as the JMEs poetry editor.

I want to do this as long as I can, Martin said. It goes along with my research interests in trauma, autobiography and war memoirs; and I feel doing this is one way I can give back.

In addition to the journal, Martin is also working with EKU to create the first annual Military Experience and the Arts Symposium. The event, expected to take place in July, will bring in up to 100 veterans in Kentucky and surrounding regions to the campus for three days of workshops, camaraderie, and free events open to the public.

Universities, non-profit organizations, and veterans throughout the country have discovered an age-old tactic for dealing with the hardships of military service: conceptualizing them through the arts, Martin writes in the proposal for the event. There is something about artistic expressio nwritten or visual that goes hand-in-hand with healing. After ten years of sustained conflict, this cathartic outlet is receiving more attention than ever before.

According to Martin, The Military Experience and the Arts Symposium will help educate the nation about the sacrifices and benefits of military service through the works produced. Among the events already lined up are art exhibitions featuring 90 pieces of conflict art collected from Iraq and Afghanistan by the group, Graffiti of War, and a public reading of stories and poems by military veterans.

The event would feature authors, artists, as well as others who could offer support for veterans in numerous areas. To find out more about the project, or to donate to the cause, contact Martin at travis.martin@uky.edu.

Martin currently resides in Richmond with his wife Annegret Martin and his dogs Buddy and Katie.