When Greg Collins, L’15, entered the University of Richmond School of Law, he immediately connected with two other military veterans in his class. Even though they came from three different branches — one from the Air Force, one from the Navy, and Collins from the Marines — they shared a common ground and helped each other transition from military life to civilian and law school life.
Connections like these, Collins says, are important for veterans, whether they’re just finishing their service or they last served decades ago.
“Since there was a draft in World War II and Vietnam, a big portion of the population had been veterans,” he says. “Finding a connection in their community was relatively easy. But now we’re a small, volunteer force.”
The challenge of building that community inspired Collins to use resources he receives as a Tillman Military Scholar to bring together veterans in the Richmond area. The Pat Tillman Foundation awards the scholarships to active and veteran service members and their spouses to fund higher education programs, and provides additional resources for scholars to serve their local communities and transition from military to civilian life.
Collins’ efforts to strengthen the Richmond veteran community take a number of forms: a weekly running club, tailgating before Spider football games, and connecting with soldiers in long-term care at Richmond’s Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. He hopes to unite younger veterans organizations with older legacy groups, like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, to help bridge the generation gap that sometimes exists among veterans.
But as a law student, Collins also found an opportunity to explain legal services to local veterans. Partnering with a fellow law student and veteran, Collins is helping organize a workshop to demystify changes in laws regulating services for veterans.
“I knew coming to Richmond Law that I wanted to be active in the veterans work here, because Richmond has a large community,” he says. “But at the same time, there’s not a lot of organization between the people who needed help and the people who wanted to give help. The Tillman scholars program really empowered me to figure out what I could do to help organize things.”
Upon finishing law school and passing the bar, he will return to the Marine Corps and enroll in the naval justice school to learn military law, ultimately serving as a judge advocate. These military attorneys may perform trial work in criminal, administrative, and family law, or pursue operational law — where Collins’ interest lies — in which judge advocates serve as legal experts for military leaders in expeditionary units.
“The fortunate thing for me is that because I’m not interviewing for jobs, I can kind of build my résumé however I want,” he says.
Regardless of what avenue he chooses, Collins’ understanding of veterans’ issues and his ability to shape community among military families will no doubt play pivotal roles when he transitions from law school back to military life and, one day, to life as a veteran.
“There’s an inherent connection with other military members and when you enter society, you’re confident but you also feel somewhat different,” Collins says. “It’s easy in southern California and San Diego and places where you have big Navy bases, big Marine Corps bases. But I think Richmond could be a very military-friendly town with just the right kind of activities getting organized.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by Collins reflect his own personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of, or an endorsement by, the Department of Defense, the Department of Navy, or the U.S. Marine Corps.