In the last four years, Toby Slaton has gone from protecting former President George W. Bush on foreign soil to taking political science classes at WSU.
Sgt. Slaton, 27, spent most of his six years as an active member of the Marines working in Afghanistan, Brazil and Mozambique as part of an elite security force responsible for guarding State Department officials, the president and presidential cabinet members during their visits to U.S. embassies. He received an honorable discharge in 2009.
Kyle Koch / The Daily Evergreen
Slaton is one of the Pullman campus’ roughly 360 student veterans, many of whom say they would not be here without the Post-9/11 GI Bill that helps pay their way through college.
“With the cost of tuition being the way it is now, I would not go to college on my own dime,” he said.
The Post-9/11 GI bill provides full federal coverage of tuition and fees for many students, said Matt Zimmerman, who works in the Department of Veterans Affairs at WSU. The bill also gives student veterans a monthly stipend of $1,074 for housing in Pullman and $1,000 a year for books.
For good reason, WSU is considered a veteran-friendly school, Zimmerman said.
About 150 student veterans attend WSU Vancouver and approximately 170 attend WSU’s Tri-Cities branch campus.
“At the Tri-Cities, it bounces somewhere around 10 percent of their campus,” he said.
Zimmerman coordinates with student veterans to ensure they get all the assistance they need after returning to civilian life in Pullman. The university’s psychology clinic also has a contract with the Washington state VA to provide counseling to students.
ASWSU also has its own Student Veterans Committee with an office in the CUB.
Committee member Daniel Spindler, 32, said he wouldn’t be at WSU if it weren’t for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Spindler spent six years in the Navy and then went to work in the private sector.
“I was working at Lowe’s, selling hammers at night, and just barely scraping by,” he said.
He worked about 16 hours a day between that and his day job.
“I was working for an insurance company and they basically told me I’d reached the glass ceiling,” Spindler said.
Slaton had a similar experience just after high school.
“I didn’t take high school seriously, so after high school, I had nowhere to go,” he said.
However, Slaton saw an opportunity to grow and learn new skills with the military.
“When I was younger, a lot of people probably wouldn’t have liked me,” he said. “I was unmotivated. I was very selfish.”
But the Marines changed him for the better, he said.
“I learned the value giving up a little bit of yourself for the team,” Slaton said.
From his unique experience protecting diplomats overseas, Slaton found inspiration for a new pursuit in politics that drew him back to the classroom.
“I think that offered me a better perspective of what I want to do with my life than other Marines got,” he said. “I became very deeply interested in why things happen in the political world and why it’s not just black and white when you can look at issues.”
No other school showed more interest in taking Slaton than WSU, he said. The university wants student veterans and offers them help once they settle in, he said.
“I can’t say enough about them,” he said. “The VA is very good at this school and the school is very good to veterans here.”