Air Force veteran and Georgetown graduate student Erik Brine used to spend his days in a C21 Learjet, transporting the dead and the wounded in Iraq.
Now, in addition to working full time as a civilian in the Air Force’s international affairs office, he takes classes at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, where he is seeking a master’s degree in policy management.
“The purpose of getting this degree is to receive a broader education on policy issues outside of the field that I’m most experienced in – national security and military affairs,” explains Brine, also a major in the Air Force Reserves. “I was looking for something that touched on social policy issues as well so I can broaden my background.”
Brine also serves as president of the Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter at Georgetown and knows firsthand the difficulties that service members face.
“Right now, we’re filling in the gap for students and serving as a support structure for veterans,” Brine said.
During his time as an Air Force pilot, Brine visited 56 countries and deployed several times to the Middle East.
The New Jersey native was on a mission to Afghanistan when he came down with what doctors initially thought was conjunctivitis, an easily treated eye infection. But the problem wouldn’t go away, and he ended up stuck in a German hospital for weeks being misdiagnosed.
It wasn’t until he came back to the United States that he saw an eye disease specialist who correctly diagnosed him with a virus, for which he regularly takes medication. Without it, his sight deteriorates.
Though the eye problem spelled the end of his flying days, he recognized that he was one of the lucky ones.
“I had just had my first child at the time, and I realized that I loved to fly airplanes, but I loved my kid and would really like to see her graduate from college.” He now has three young children.
Georgetown’s SVA, which now includes 115 students and faculty supporters, helps veterans with benefit issues and other needs related to their service.
Learning from Vets
In October, the group hosted more than 450 student veterans at Georgetown for the 2010 SVA national conference.
The university participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, an Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored benefit that defers the cost of tuition for returning veterans.
Scott Fleming, associate vice president of federal relations, is teaching Brine in a half-semester course on Lobbying and Government Relations. Students in the class are broken up into teams that develop lobbying strategies on issues that interest them. Erik is on a team focusing on proposed amendments to the New GI Bill.
“The Georgetown SVA has played an important part in bringing the many veterans on campus together and in engaging them with every aspect of the university,” Fleming said. “In doing so, they are important not only to each other, but also to the broader student body who gain for improved opportunities to interact with and learn from our student veterans.”
(Nov. 10, 2010)