Take Two for April 3, 2013

The Next Mission: Student veterans and a space of their own

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Oscar Colindres, 38, is a student veteran at USC. Colindres says goodbye to his 15-year-old son, Israel, and 3-year-old daughter, Madalynn, before leaving for class on Monday, April 1. Colindres spent more than 15 years in the Marine Corps, including a tour in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990's.

Josh Jacobs - Student Veterans

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Jacobs walks by USC's ROTC building where cadets lounge on the steps outside.

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Colindres walks to his Elizabethan poetry class on Monday morning. He is an English major with a minor in business law. As a 38-year-old latino veteran with two children, Colindres said it's hard to connect with other students at his school. "You're on an island all the time. it's really lonely," he said, "you don't have anybody to vent your frustrations, that can tell you, 'yeah, I know exactly how you feel.'" Colindres found a veterans group at USC that has helped him connect.

Josh Jacobs - Student Veterans

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Jacobs attends class in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

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Oscar Colindres meets with his academic advisor to plan his classes for the next semester. He is set to graduate in May 2014. He hopes to go to law school, and is taking the LSAT this spring. He hopes to become a consultant for human resources departments, or a teacher.

Josh Jacobs - Student Veterans

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Jacobs speaks with the two staff members of USC's Veterans Affairs Office, Quence Smith and Samantha Marquez, in their space at USC's Hubbard Hall.

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Oscar Colindres greets a classmate before a morning English class. After his medical separation from the Marine Corps from knee problems, he had one week of training, benefits and insurance overviews, and paperwork signing. "That's one of the worst feelings after being in the military for almost 20 years," he said, "because you feel like you've given everything, and then in return you're getting one week of 'here you go,' and consequently, you're ill-prepared."

Josh Jacobs - Student Veterans

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Jacobs talks with attendees of a dinner honoring student Veterans at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

Josh Jacobs - Student Veterans

Grant Slater/KPCC

Jacobs introduces a fellow student to his grandfather before a dinner honoring USC student veterans and alumni at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

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After his morning class, the 38-year-old returns to his home in Norwalk to have lunch with his family. After returning from Iraq, Colindres spent the rest of his service in recruiting in Southern California. Immediately after leaving the military, Colindres went through depression. "I spent six months just sitting at my counter in my underwear," he said. "I used to wake up and be in charge of people, now i'm in charge of coffee," he joked.

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Oscar Colindres and his son, Israel, pray before eating lunch. After graduating high school, he joined the Marine Corps. Less than a year later he was in Iraq. He remembers realizing the dangers of being in a war zone, when he awoke to the sounds of bombs dropping at 3 a.m. one night.

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The Colindres family eats lunch together. Oscar Colindres lives with his 3-year-old daughter, Madalynn, separated wife Julie, and 15-year-old son, Israel. The family makes it a point to sit down and eat meals together when they are all at home.

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Colindres kisses his 3-year-old daughter Madalynn goodbye before returning to the USC campus for an afternoon class. On Tuesdays, he takes his daughter to the campus child care.

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Since 15, Colindres has been DJing. He practices his set for a Marine's wedding the upcoming weekend. Although his tuition is free through the G.I. Bill and a grant from USC, he has taken out loans for family and other school needs.

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Before his evening class in real estate law, Oscar Colindres studies for the next day's exam on James Joyce's "Ulysses." He remembers growing up in Pico-Union with his mother, and passing the campus as a kid. He told his mom that one day he would attend USC. Colindres cried when he received his acceptance letter to USC in 2012, after attending Cerritos Community College for a year.


It's much easier for student vets to navigate college life if their school has a centralized center coordinating all of the services available for veterans on campus. But not all schools have these centers. Jeff Severns Guntzel, senior reporter for the Public Insight Network has the story.

RELATED: See other stories and reporting from The Next Mission series


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