Name: Mike Bassett
Class: Heartland Class of 2009
Degree: Associate's in Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
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Colleen: Our latest alum in the spotlight is a war veteran who received combat-related injuries and who now serves as a veterans advisor to Republican Presidential Candidate Buddy Roemer.
Mike: Hi. My name is Mike Bassett. I transferred from Heartland in 2009 to American University in Washington D.C. At the time I was a Sociology Major.
Colleen: So Mike, tell us what have you been doing since you left Heartland?
Mike: Well, besides raising my daughter I've had a lot of academic achievements. It took me a little bit to adjust from being in a community college to being in an upper tier level university; especially out in D.C. and I've taken advantage of a lot of opportunities that come along with being in the D.C. area. I've done a lot of work with veteran's organizations to get policy created to help veterans transitioning from the military, to help get their education lined up or get into the workforce or something like that and I've also done some veteran's work for a presidential campaign.
Colleen: Let's back up a little bit Mike. Your interest in veteran's affairs comes from the time before you went to Heartland. You
served in the U.S. military?
Mike: Yes. Before I went to Heartland Community College I was active duty in the US Army from 1997 to 2007.
Colleen: And you were shipped overseas most of the time, right?
Mike: Yes. Besides OSUT (One Station Unit Training) in non-commissioned officer's school that I attended in the states, I was overseas about the whole time that I was in the military.
Colleen: Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
Mike: Actually, it was an awesome experience and I went to a lot of different countries. I've been about everywhere in Europe and Asia and I was able to get immersed in the cultures and learn about other parts of the world. It was a great experience.
Colleen: You also served at an elite outpost in the DMZ in Korea for five years. What was that like?
Mike: Actually, that was my favorite assignment. For one, I wasn't getting shot at there...well, not very often. But it was really interesting because that is one of the very few places in the world where you get to be that close to the most isolated nation on the planet, North Korea and it's really interesting. It's a completely different world and unless people really know about what is going on over there they just really couldn't understand. But I stayed there for a long time because it was such an interesting situation and our role is very important. It wasn't a job for somebody who couldn't handle working hard. You never get to leave base, you sometimes work for two or three days straight, without a day off, without even getting back to your rack to sleep. It's a real hardship tour especially to do the tour for four and a half or five years like I did. The benefit of it was that you got to be in a situation right in the middle of one of the most tense hot spots on the planet and actually kind of served as a diplomat in that area.
Colleen: So what made you leave the army? You suffered some combat injuries?
Mike: Yeah, I was medevac'd and medically retired. I had several injuries and it's been a long recovery, from 2006 to present. I'm just getting done with my expected last surgery to recover from injuries. I am currently taking a medical leave from the semester. I am going to try to get everything done on time with my class but if not I can take incompletes and they will give me some extra time. It's been a long recovery.
Colleen: Can you talk a little bit about how you suffered your injuries?
Mike: They are mostly in the line of duty from being deployed and it's kind of a difficult experience to talk about. They medevac'd me in a helicopter to an army hospital and they saw that I was going to take a little bit longer to recover and need a little more services than what they could offer to me so they sent me back to the states to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. I was there for about six months. They did everything they could for me. I wanted to stay in [the Army] because I had been in for ten years already. I was a career soldier and I was actually really on a fast track. I was due to get my E-7 pretty soon.
Colleen: What does that mean in military terms?
Mike: Sargent First Class. That is once you are actually promoted by the Congress of the United States. You are not locally promoted anymore. That means that you have already done your lower enlisted time, you've already done your leadership time as a Sargent and you've already done your transition to senior leadership time where you served as a platoon sargent and in my case, a tank commander and master gunner. I was about ready to go to a senior military academy and get promoted by the Congress. Once you make your E-7, Sargent First Class, then that is the point in the military where you have really achieved something. It's like going from a full bird colonel to becoming a general on the enlisted side.
Colleen: Where were you when you were injured?
Mike: I had gotten hurt on one deployment in Kosovo and then I got hurt on another one in Iraq. I just started having brain injury related problems and it was really affecting my life. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't function. It turns out that I also had some broken bones, two that I didn't know about which just goes to show how badly I was injured.
I had broken bones that I didn't know about. I had nerve damage that I didn't know about. It was a lot of stuff that I didn't even know was wrong with me. It was pretty bad.
Colleen: So now you are working to make sure that veterans who are returning from combat or from service are given the attention they need and the help they need educationally?
Mike: Exactly. That's my big passion. When I got injured I had it a little bit better than a lot of people because I was at an army hospital and they were taking their time with me to take care of me. Even though I was there for about six months and I knew that I was going to be getting out, I was really only afforded about one month to actually prepare for that during that six months. After being in the military for ten years, one month really isn't long enough to just go back to the civilian world. I notice a lot of my friends that hadn't been hurt were just transitioning from their unit. One day they would be in Iraq or Afghanistan and then the next year they were getting ready to ETS locally out of their unit
and they would only have two or three days where they could prepare to find a job or get lined up in school. Unfortuanately some of my friends just couldn't adjust. When they got out of the military they ended up killing themselves. It's no secret that the statistics for the suicide rates are pretty high for soldiers right now. I see the core of the problem
as not being given enough transition time. I have been working very hard to get warrior transition units available to guys who are transitioning if they want them. They can take three months and prepare to get a job lined up when they get out and have a place to live and have a car to drive and have all of their stuff lined up so that when they get out they are ready. They have their medical needs taken care of; if they have psycological needs they can get those taken care of. They can get all of their files copied and have them on hand. They can be integrated into the V.A. if they need help with them. In short, to have everything ready to make their transition as smooth as possible. President Obama called it "reverse bootcamp" but basically these are the fundamentals of the ideas that we pitched to him.
Colleen: So how are you giving this input? Are you part of a coalition of veterans or in what capacity?
Mike: I am a member of several veteran's orgainzations. Also, having been in the military for ten years, I know a lot of people in the military and I have a lot of guys who served under me that I still keep in contact with. I still keep in contact with the families of guys that I knew who have died. I really am tuned into the veteran's community and we throw these ideas around amongst us and we actually take them forward and try to get policy created. A lot of my friends work on Capitol Hill. I have a job in a veteran's coalition and we work with senators and congressmen and national leadership and the president. I have been to the White House several times. We just keep on pushing these ideas until we get what veterans need. Then it becomes policy and it has a real effect.
Colleen: Let me ask you how you think your time at Heartland prepared you to be this kind of activist and in a way, lobbyist, for veterans?
Mike: Heartland was really perfect for me. It was like a stepping stone. I don't know if I would have ended up in the same situation right now if I would have gone to ISU. Community college is the perfect environment for somebody to start off, especially when they are a non-traditional student and you need some of that one-on-one advice and that type of environment to help you get on your feet. That's what is perfect about Heartland. That's why I went there and I am glad that I did.
Colleen: What advice do you have for current students?
Mike: Talk to your professors. I was majorly influennced by one of my professors at Heartland. He was my Politiacl Science 101 professor.
Colleen: Who was that?
Mike: His name was David Lewis. At the time I was going through my transition as a non-traditional student, I really wasn't feeling like I fit in with the kids in my classes and I wasn't really sure how to do the college thing and one thing that stuck with me is something that David said. He said, "If you can't discuss something in an academic environment, then where can you discuss it?" That really stuck with me because at that point I wasn't really sure if I could give my input on an idea. But, I did have real word experience and a unique view and because of the statement that he made that stuck with me, I was able to feel confident about discussing that. It really helped me a lot in my transition and it actually turned out to make me an asset in the class. When I was at Heartland, there really wasn't a veteran's liason but I had a guidance counselor there and she was a veteran. I didn't really need help signing up for classes but it was good to have her as an academic advisor or guidance counselor. Because she was a veteran I knew that she understood. I could go in to see her if she had some time and just talk to her. I could ask her about how to accomplish what I needed to and to fit in with college life. There was definitely a lot of benefits there that helped me with my transition and I don't think I could have done it without them.
Colleen: I know you stay connected to the college through Facebook, which tells me that you are proud of your Heartland connection.
Colleen: Well, Mike Bassett, thank you very much for sharing your time and your story with us.
Mike: You are welcome. Thank you.
Colleen: Keep checking the Alumni and Friends Web site for the latest events and benefits. There are two events in February on the Heartland campus -- the Challenger Learning Center's Funnyraiser which features amateur comics from the community who will surprise you with their comedic abilities as they raise money for scholarships so kids can attend sessions at the Challenger Center plus the Day of Dance, a great event designed to get you dancing your way to better health. Check out the Events tab for details and ticket information. I'm Heartland Alumni Relations Director Colleen Reynolds. Thanks for listening.