A time of transition: Veteran finds his place at Simpson

by Ben Rodgers, managing editor

Right out of high school, current Simpson College freshman Chris McKinnon had his eyes set on attending college and playing football. While McKinnon has finally achieved those goals at Simpson, he took a detour that sets him apart from his first year counterparts: McKinnon is 22 year-old non-traditional student and a United States Army veteran.

 A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, McKinnon was ready to continue the playing the game he loved at Victor Valley Community College in Victorville, California. During training camp, McKinnon injured his back putting a pause on the future season.

 “They told me I could burn a year or go back home,” McKinnon said. “It was kind of a heart breaker. Football is life when you’re growing up and you think it’s over.”

 After deciding to go home, McKinnon started to think about the United States Army as a full time career.

 Upon enlisting, McKinnon was stationed at Fort Riley near Manhattan, Kansas.

 “We did a lot of training over there. The usual run around for multiple days, sit around and observe stuff,” McKinnon said. “You know, normal mock military stuff.”

 In May of 2012, McKinnon was deployed to active duty in Afghanistan where he served until February of 2013.  In an interview with The Simpsonian, McKinnon said the largest eye-opener in Afghanistan was seeing the actual state of the country itself, not how it is mostly perceived in America.

 “Afghanistan gives you a really good perspective about how the rest of the world is,” McKinnon said. “Kind of clears up a lot of the BS you hear on the news, because I was on the ground actually fighting in that war. It clears up a lot of what you hear on the news because they never report the good stuff over there, just always the bad stuff.”

 While McKinnon said he saw many positive changes in Afghanistan, he also said it was shocking how many Afghani’s hated the presence of him and other American troops.

 “They (Afghani’s) will walk straight up to your face and say ‘Why are you here? We don’t like you,” McKinnon said. “I was actually spat on multiple times.”

 According to McKinnon, his experience in Afghanistan is also what made him decide to leave the Army. McKinnon simply said: “it’s too political.”

 “The main reason why I did get out is because I didn’t agree with a lot of what was going on over there,” McKinnon said. “There were certain things that we weren’t able to do and a lot of other issues that were going on.”

 In February 2014, McKinnon left Fort Riley and returned home to Las Vegas.

 Upon leaving the military McKinnon again got the bug to play football. As a veteran, he decided to use his benefits and return to school.

 The first school McKinnon looked into was University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. Excited to get to a smaller school and have a chance for hands on learning, McKinnon ran into some issues.

 “I talked with the VA (Veteran’s Affairs) and got enrolled, then two weeks before the semester started they told me ‘Hey your VA paperwork isn’t going to go through before your spring tuition,” McKinnon said. “I’m an out of state student, so I said I’m not going to do that.”

 Slightly disheartened, McKinnon moved back to Las Vegas where he moved in with a close friend that was going through the police academy. Seeing that as another option McKinnon prepared to enter the academy, but had slight reservations about it.

 “I still wanted to go back to school,” McKinnon said. “I didn’t want to have to grow up again, because I had to grow up when I was 18.”

 McKinnon’s opportunity came after ’08 Simpson graduate and military veteran Jason Courtney put McKinnon in touch with Coach Jim Glogowski. After Glogowski offered to fly Chris out for a Simpson visit he had one thought in his head: “Why not?”

 It was after his visit McKinnon knew where he wanted to be.

 “I came out here, loved the campus, the coaching staff seemed supportive and the professors seemed to know what they were talking about,” McKinnon said. “I also wanted that close niche community.”

 While some in McKinnon’s place could have reservations about starting up with school again, he said he felt he had the support to get him to Simpson and help him succeed.

 “Jason Courtney, who referred me here kind of hyped it up a lot and when I came to visit the coaches made it feel like home and a welcome place, so I wasn’t really scared,” McKinnon said.

 Stepping back onto an educational environment for the first time in years, McKinnon said the biggest transition he’s faced is getting back into the books.

 “I didn’t do math for four years,” McKinnon said. “That’s four years after that and your chewing on rocks.”

 While Chris has said the transition back into the classroom has been hard, the learning environment offered by Simpson and its professors has helped tremendously.

 “I’m lucky to have a school that give me options and has made it easy,” McKinnon said. “It’s pretty much an open door policy with my professors and tutors ‘Hey you need help? Come on up and I’ll help you.”

 Also helping him with the transition back into school are two values McKinnon learned from his time in the service: maturity and work ethic.

 “Yeah, I’m a goofball and I like to mess around all the time, but when it comes down to being serious, I’m very serious about schoolwork,” McKinnon said. “A lot of people can get sidetracked with it being the first time their away from their families, but I say you just need to learn how to balance.”

 The maturity and work ethic that McKinnon has brought with him has not gone unnoticed. Coach Glowgoski said he sees McKinnon transitioning back on the field and in the classroom just fine.

 “I think he has a different level of expectations for themselves,” Glogowski said. “I don’t think he looks at it as ‘I’m going to go to college and do well’ I think he looks at it from a standpoint as ‘Hey I’m in college I need to buckle down and understand what it’s going to take’. I think there is a level of commitment that’s very different.”

 An athletic training major, McKinnon hopes to eventually go on to be a trainer for athletic teams either at the collegiate or professional level.

 For some 22-year-olds, being lumped in as a “freshman” could really bother them, when it comes to McKinnon though, he could care less. While having to take a freshman Simpson Colloquium class and many beginning level classes, McKinnon takes it in stride.

 “I seem to be the goofball in every single one of my classes,” McKinnon said.

 McKinnon says many people don’t know about his military until he tells them that he is 22 and a freshman. After telling people of his service he says he usually receives a common response: a thanks for his service to his country.

 While McKinnon sees it as a nice gesture, he said sometimes it can make him feel uncomfortable.

 “I don’t know if it’s just my personality, but I don’t like hearing it because it makes me feel kind of awkward,” McKinnon said.

 Even though he said it could feel uncomfortable he always replies with a simple, “no problem.”

 While McKinnon is humble about his service, others are always thankful.

 “It shows what’s right about this country and what’s right about people who serve,” Glogowski said. “To me it’s inspiring. I’m 40 years old and here there are these guys who served for their country when they were 19 years old so I can do what I do. It’s very humbling.

 Coming to Simpson the one aspect of military life McKinnon knew he would miss was the camaraderie between himself and his fellow soldiers.

 “That’s one thing I knew I was going to miss because living on base, and even with deployment, you’re with the same guys all the time,” McKinnon said. “You have you’re barracks, which are like your dorms, and you’re hanging out with guys from all over the country and you form those bonds.”

 While it’s slightly different than the brotherhoods formed in the military, McKinnon has had no problems finding that sense of camaraderie. His place where he’s found those strong friendships again is back on the gridiron with the Storm football team.

 “Coming out to Simpson, being on the football team definitely helped me make friends,” McKinnon said. “I started out with 150 friends first semester, when some people come in with zero.”

 “To feel that since of brotherhood again is nice.”