CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) -– This week marks Veterans Day, and for some veterans, life in a war zone can be a whole lot easier than returning home.
Gantt Kinlaw, 33, knows that all too well.
“I’d rather be on a helicopter infilling into a target somewhere in Afghanistan at midnight than walking out of my apartment in the middle of the day to go to work,” Kinlaw said.
“I went from a dead sprint to a walking pace,” Kinlaw added as he described his experience leaving the U.S. military.
Kinlaw spent a total of 12 years traveling the world, attached to special forces teams as an Air Force combat controller — or as he puts it, a “force multiplier.”
“Ten guys with guns can do a lot of damage,” Kinlaw explained, “but one guy with the radio can wreak havoc.”
The former technical sergeant stationed at Pope Air Force Base calls those guys his family, but it took a death in his actual family to make him leave active duty in 2009 and enroll in college.
“My grandmother was dying of ovarian cancer,” Kinlaw remembered.
“She called me over to her bed and she made me promise that I would go to college and finish,” he continued with a slight break in his voice and misty eyes.
“She knew something about me that I didn’t necessarily know, and she made me promise to her,” Kinlaw added. “She knew I’d keep that promise.”
He went to Appalachian State University, but without the support of his military family, Kinlaw dropped out after only a semester to reenlist.
“You learn to rely on them and then to cut that off and it’s just you, it’s a different way of living,” he explained.
Kinlaw said he felt a sense of relief when he reenlisted because the military is where he “was the most comfortable.”
But he had a promise to his grandmother to keep, so eventually, he left the military again and re-enrolled in school.
Kinlaw spent two years at the University of Louisville, but he says something was still off.
That changed for the better when he came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated last May.
“I wish I had just applied [at UNC] the first time,” Kinlaw said while on campus. “Instead, I had a not necessarily smooth route to getting here.”
At UNC, Kinlaw says he finally found the community and resources he needed to help make his adjustment to civilian life easier.
In fact, he became president of the Carolina Veterans Organization (CVO) and was on hand this fall for the school’s grand-opening of its new Carolina Veterans Resource Center (CVRC).
He credits the school with helping him fulfill his grandmother’s dying wish — to graduate from college.
“I got it done, and I’m proud of the fact that I fulfilled that promise,” Kinlaw said with a sense of peace.
When asked if he thought his grandmother would be proud of him, he said with a beaming smile, “Oh I know she is.
“I definitely know she is.”
There are about 500 veterans at UNC – the most at one time since the end of World War II.
And interestingly enough, the new CVRC is located in a building built after WWII to house those returning veterans.
RESOURCES FOR VETERANS:
If you’re a veteran interested in the CVRC’s services, click here: http://veterans.web.unc.edu/
Click here to get help for PTSD or if you are a loved one concerned about a veteran: ptsd.va.gov
More info on the Warrior Care Network: woundedwarriorproject.org
Military One Source – Support for Military Personnel & Families: militaryonesource.mil
To talk to another war veteran, call 1-877-WAR-VETS.
Contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1, or text 838255.