Marshall University’s new director of military and veterans affairs may not have had a long career in the military, but he certainly knows the challenges military and veteran students and dependents face on campus.
Jonathan McCormick proved he had brains and brawn at Poca High School in Poca, West Virginia. He earned a GPA worthy of honors, scored higher than average on the ACT, and, as an offensive lineman, he was part of three state championships and was named to the Class AA all-state team in 2004. Although he thought he was well prepared for the Marine Corps, McCormick said the boot camp experience was indescribable. “I even read up on wars and current military situations,” McCormick began, “but until you have been there, you can’t know what those 13 weeks are like.”
Despite the rigidity, McCormick would be named squad leader within eight days of stepping off the bus and onto the yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island. The next day, he was platoon guide. He would finish boot camp as company honor graduate, number one of 455.
Following infantry school in Camp Geiger in North Carolina, McCormick awaited deployment in Twentynine Palms, California, where he was team leader.
McCormick’s trajectory changed in the Mojave Desert. When his name wasn’t drawn for deployment to Iraq, McCormick said he tried to take the place of a newlywed Marine. Ironically, he said it was after taking his friend to the airport that McCormick began unexplainable fainting spells. After nine months, he was finally diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition that caused his heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. His intense training under sweltering heat and with little hydration triggered the syndrome.
Lance Cpl. McCormick was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in May 2007. As the nephew of two military men, and as a man who felt the Marine Corps calling after watching the Twin Towers fall in 2001, he found himself broken.
“After the dust had settled, I was depressed,” McCormick said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that part of my life is gone. I can’t get that back.’”
That August, McCormick adjusted his bootstraps and enrolled at Marshall University. If he had lineage in the military, he had a longer line of Marshall grads in the family. But the experience was different than that of his sisters or parents.
“I felt very isolated in the student population,” McCormick confessed. “People might think veteran students are more mature, but the lack of provided structure leaves you in a tailspin.”
Using the G.I. Bill, McCormick graduated with a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree in 2011. After the past six years in sales, he said he accepted the position as the director of military and veterans affairs to help students who, like him, found it challenging to reacclimate to civilian life and adjust to college life simultaneously.
“I know the things I struggled with, and I know how to connect with veterans,” McCormick said.
Ultimately, McCormick said he wants to help make military, veteran and dependent students more visible on campus. Included in his plans, McCormick said, is a Meet the Veterans Symposium, an event at which he said he hopes the greater Marshall community will ask questions to understand the military population better and consequently walk away with a greater understanding of their position.
“I want students to see veterans, to see that veterans are students just like they are, and to see that veterans have struggles just like them,” McCormick said.
McCormick lives in Scott Depot with his wife, Amber, and their two daughters, Cayleanna, 9, and Raelynn, 3.