Bob Knowles Jr. fought in Vietnam, and he’s now on the front lines of the fight to help thousands of veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq get a good education — and good jobs.
Knowles, 69, of Stone Mountain, is also a communications instructor at Georgia Perimeter College, the third largest educational institution in the state, and serves as a mentor and Military Student Advocate to vets now seeking an education.
His boss, retired Sgt. Maj. Mark T. Eister, director of GPC’s Military Outreach, says the program is designed to “help veterans transition from the military back into civilian life, specifically to help them get into and be successful in college.”
That’s where Knowles comes in. Since returning from Vietnam he’s earned two master’s degrees and won numerous writing awards for his action-filled non-fiction war stories.
The outreach program helps returning troops cut through red tape of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Knowles counsels them on how they might best transfer military skills to civilian jobs.
Eister says GPC has about 700 student veterans and military dependents using VA educational benefits.
“I retired from the U.S. Army one year ago and served a deployment tour in Afghanistan,” Eister said. “I can identify with today’s soldiers who are coming home and are simply trying to regain their footing in civilian and college life.”
Officially and unofficially, Knowles has been doing that for decades because “our nation’s heroes need guidance, and it’s very rewarding to help them.”
He says colleges and universities are being engulfed by the first wave of about two million returning vets of Iraq and Afghanistan and enrolling in large numbers in GPC and other schools.
GPC first began to feel a military student rush about five years ago, Knowles says, but that’s practically become a tsunami now.
Knowles says his dedication stems from his upbringing. Men in his family, he says, have fought in wars back to the American Revolution.
Soldiers like Kenton Allen, 35, a staff sergeant in the Reserves, are grateful for his help.
“He was very good with helping me out,” Allen says. “He’s pointed me pretty much in the right direction. I’m majoring in homeland security.”
Marine Staff Sgt. Brookes Smith, 32, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, including stints as a machine gunner and a tank commander, thinks the road in front of him now will be a lot easier to negotiate, thanks to Knowles.
“He put me in touch with lots of people, opened up a lot of different options for education,” Smith said. “People need this kind of help after going through the experiences we have. All the help has just been invaluable.”
Knowles, who enjoys teaching ex-troops how to write, says it’s also rewarding to help them determine what they want to do for the rest of their working lives.
“Nam vets know how hard homecoming can be,” Knowles said. “We’re determined to keep history from repeating itself. Today’s veterans are owed a tremendous amount for their courage and sacrifice. And we’re doing all we can.”