Can you tell us about your military background and your path toward attending college?

I enlisted into the Army National Guard in 1990 and was later commissioned via ROTC in the Quartermaster Corps as a Second Lieutenant (2LT) in 1993. I served in various leadership and staff assignments in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (Iraq and Qatar). While I was on active duty, I was preoccupied with my military career and I did not focus on my “civilian education” as seriously. It wasn't until I retired in 2010 that I could focus on education. Shortly after I left the Army, I was hired by the Department Of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where I am currently employed. Despite having the perfect skill set for this position, I wanted to know more about emergency management. It was then I decided to attend the Metropolitan College of New York, because the institution offered a master in public administration - disaster and emergency management. Moreover, the school was a short walk from my job-site. Upon completion of my MPA I used my remaining GI Bill benefits to attend Saint John Fisher College and earned a doctoral degree in executive leadership.

What was the driving force behind your return to school after serving in the military?

The driving force in me was to become a better Joseph Asbery once I left the Army. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from my combat tours, as well as dealing with several toxic leaders towards the end of my military career. Emotionally, I wasn't in a good place and nearly became another veteran suicide statistic. After several months of therapy and a lot introspective thought, I was back on track. Once I left the Army in 201, I was determined to rebuild myself. Moreover, landing a federal job just 10 days after I left the Army was a good start.

Entering FEMA, despite having the perfect skill set for the position, I wanted to know more about emergency management, so as I attended a college that complimented my new profession. My initial goal was to just to earn a master's degree but my brother, Dr. David Asbery, graduated with his doctoral degree. Rather than getting a second masters degree with the remainder of my GI Bill, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree too. Also, I could not let my brother pass me up.

What are the three most important attributes or characteristics a veteran should consider when selecting a university?

  • The institution's reputation. Is the university or college accredited? Predatory institutions thrive of the perceived ignorance of veterans. A school claiming to be “military friendly” may not be as friendly as you think. Moreover, veterans should do research and pick an institution that has a challenging curriculum and is not just a “degree mill.” Institutions target veterans because of the lucrative GI Bill benefit -- use it wisely.
  • Look for institutions that have veteran support elements on the campus. As a professor, I have had the opportunity to travel to other colleges in NYC. As a veteran myself, it was a good feeling to walk into a dedicated veteran student lounge with dedicated veteran services on campus. It was almost like a sanctuary.
  • A veteran should look at the success rate of the institutions job placement program and explore any entrepreneur programs that may be offered. Many veterans entering college institutions are either pursuing new careers in a high-paying field or becoming business owners or entrepreneurs. The driving force for going to school is to help one build a better life post-military.

How important is a university's sense of community for veterans when deciding on a college?

A university with a solid sense of community can only help a returning service member in completing their studies and graduating. In the four years I have been teaching at my institution, all of the veteran students in my curriculum have graduated or are on track to finish their studies. A veteran's shared experience goes a long way. Moreover, it is an excellent networking opportunity for them to meet other veterans and non-veterans.

How does the GI Bill influence a veteran or service member's choice to pursue a higher education?

The GI Bill gives veterans an opportunity to possibly attend just about any VA-certified higher education or trade institution across the board. Of all the benefits I was authorized to receive, the Post-9/11 GI bill was the best. This benefit enhanced my life forever.

What advice would you give students who don't believe they can attend college as a veteran?

I tell potential students to visit a campus and see it for themselves. Moreover, find a campus that has a robust veteran outreach program. Furthermore, a few encouraging words can help. In my case, I tell veterans who are on the fence about going back to school that this benefit of ours is something that doesn't come for everyone. I tell them they have one life to live and what they do will determine a good portion of their lives. I also ask them to look within themselves to find that same spark they had when they entered the military and use it to start their academic journey.

What advice would you give to a prospective veteran student who is in the first stages of their college search?

Stand back, research an institution in the greatest detail possible and choose wisely. Look at the overall college life at the institution, veteran support services, and utilize social media to reach out to other veterans or professors who are attending the university they are interested in.

What are some of the ways family and friends can support student veterans during their time of transition?

Most veterans will need their family and friends as support during their academic journey. In my case, I almost quit my doctoral studies when I was nearly completed. I was so tired and my patience meter was on empty. However, I had my squad of family (specifically my brother), friends, and cohorts who I could go and talk to. In the midnight hour, that was a godsend. Specifically, I took a few hours away from studies to rest my mind and talked with my brother. Since he went through the same experience, he put things into perspective with respect to the writing my dissertation.

What are some struggles you faced when transitioning into school? How were you able to overcome them?

At the time, I had just left the Army and was dealing with severe PTSD. I had to learn to have patience. I had to be a little more compassionate and diplomatic towards non-veteran students and people around me. Specifically, not being ridged about my expectations that I was accustomed to while in the Army. Moreover, as a former officer, I had to learn that I did not have general or direct authority anymore and things that I wanted to happen would happen in due time.

What beneficial internal programs did you take advantage of? How did they affect your life?

My institution did not have a specific program. However, the networking opportunity at an institution is priceless. I have had the opportunity to network with many professional business owners and entrepreneurs over the past eight years. This opportunity gave me the tools to turn my hobby of photography into a business that I am currently growing. Moreover, there are other entrepreneur programs that veterans have access to such as university-sponsored outreach programs similar to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans. Other programs include veteran local business development centers and the U.S. Small Business Administration. All of these entities anyone can find, but a college may have a relationship with these organizations, making it easier for prospective veterans who want to build a business.

Dr. Joseph Asbery

Senior Watch Officer at the Department of Homeland Security

Dr. Joseph Asbery is a native New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan and later the Bronx. In 1990, Joseph joined the Army National Guard and continued his education by attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Upon graduation in 1993 with a BA in police science, Joseph was commissioned into the Regular Army as a Logistics Officer and was assigned to the United States Army European Command Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy, and later in Hanau, Germany, where he served multiple tours a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer from 1994 through 1997. In 1997, he was reassigned to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where he commanded the 557th Maintenance Company. Through his leadership, he teamed with various base organizations where he achieved excellence in maintenance and repair of the National Training Center's prepositioned Brigade equipment set by winning the coveted Department of The Army's Phoenix Superior Unit Maintenance Award in 2000. He also won the prestigious Department of Defense Supply Excellence Award for exceptional logistics support to the Fort Irwin community. As Company Commander, Major Asbery also lead the installation in maintaining 100% retention of soldiers and of soldiers recruited for four consecutive quarters. From 2000 to 2002, Joseph was assigned to the Company B, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), United States Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for a three-man Special Forces Civil Affairs Team. Duty entailed conflict assessment, whole-of-government planning, and a full range of political military activities when forward deployed. In 2003, he deployed with the HQ United States Central Command in support of current operations in the Middle East. Joseph played a significant role in the physical re-establishment of the Central Command's forward presence in Qatar to provide command and control for current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a Non-combat Arms Officer, he quickly mastered the multifaceted and complex tasks demanded of a Ground Operations Officer by developing the ground operations debrief, the primary document used to provide comprehensive, insightful input.