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CCRI student veteran helps his comrades
Student Success Story, May 18, 2012
Rhode Island Air National Guard Sgt. Anthony Paolino, 28, has been pursuing his degree from the Community College of Rhode Island on and off for 10 years, with frequent interruptions to serve overseas.
He was able to attend full time starting in fall 2010, but not without taking on the considerable extra work of founding the Rhode Island Military Organization (RIMO), a nonprofit that assists Rhode Island veterans and their families, and continuing to report to training with the National Guard.
In addition, he is president of the CCRI Student Veterans Organization, a part of RIMO that supports CCRI’s 600 student veterans by assisting them with their Veterans Administration education benefits and fostering a sense of community.
Paolino, a Johnston resident, graduated with a degree in General Business May 18 with a 3.54 GPA.
Paolino spends his mornings in meetings for RIMO, attends to his duties as president of the Student Veterans Organization at CCRI during the afternoon and takes classes in the evenings, finishing around 9 or 10 p.m.
But this is nothing compared to the workload during his deployments – eight in the past 10 years. Twelve- or 13-hour days six days in a row are the norm, in places like Qatar and Kuwait where the average daily temperature is 110 degrees.
“After a shift like that, you’re drained,” Paolino said. “All you want to do is go to bed.”
“Bed” has meant a lot of different things depending what base Paolino was on and in what part of the world. Sometimes the Guardsmen slept in wooden huts and sometimes 10 to a tent.
Paolino has seen the mountains of Afghanistan and vast deserts in the Persian Gulf, and in each Middle Eastern country either great wealth or great poverty, with few people in between.
Despite the privation, Paolino enjoys the military and had wanted to join from a young age. He is an aviation specialist, responsible for all the electronic parts on the C-130J cargo plane. His unit flew troops, ammunition and other supplies in and out of war zones in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Paolino has had some unique experiences during his career that he could not have had any other way: the time he served as support staff during an international air show in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2006, or the time his unit supported Air Force One and Air Force Two during the 2004 presidential election, ferrying the Secret Service’s armored vehicles.
Experiences like these will keep Paolino in the military, as will the feeling of camaraderie he finds there.
“A lot of guys who stay in the military for a long time like the structure,” Paolino said. “You really have a lot of support and the feeling of being part of a unit.”
He said this is the kind of feeling he hopes the Student Veterans Organization inspires at CCRI: one in which veterans feel supported.
“When I first came back to school I had a lot of unsuccessful semesters and withdrawals because of my deployments,” Paolino said. “Dealing with the school and dealing with the Veterans Administration to pay for school, there’s a lot of moving parts there and sometimes students get frustrated.”
The Student Veterans Organization is meant to help these students feel welcome and help them deal with the added bureaucratic issues involved in using their VA benefits.
Now on the eve of his graduation, Paolino thanked the faculty and staff at CCRI for their assistance.
“Over the last year and a half I’ve consistently engaged with the staff and administration, and that’s helped me grow as a professional and as an advocate,” he said.
Paolino plans to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree – he is considering Providence College, Bryant University and the University of Rhode Island – to make himself eligible to go to officer candidate school to become an officer in the military.
For now, Paolino is enjoying his long-in-the-making achievement at CCRI and the commencement ceremony, which will be particularly special for him because he will march in military honor guard with members of his National Guard unit.