Combat To College is the guide for student veterans who want to win the college battle. Utilize the unique skills and discipline you gained in the military to succeed in higher education. In ten straightforward lessons designed by a veteran for veterans, you will learn how to navigate the transition to civilian life, build your team and resume, work with political professors, and endure to graduation. Maintain your military bearing and unwavering determination in your next chapter. Make your college success non-negotiable. You’ve earned the GI Bill, and now it’s time to grit your teeth and use it.
Tell me a little about your new book “Combat To College”
Student veterans are at such a consequential point in their lives. They aren’t just starting school- they are readjusting to civilian life, moving across the country, and transitioning out of the military. Their success or failure at college has a big impact on their future. But my book isn’t just about academic achievements and graduating. It’s about making the most of their college time to set themselves up for success after. It’s about harnessing your military mentality in your civilian life to get ahead. It’s relatable to anyone who’s served, it’s funny, and it’s words from a friend.
What is the backstory behind “Combat To College”?
I was working part-time in a VA work-study program during college. My job was to help the student veterans in the school, everything from making sure they got money for their books to giving tours of campus. Working so closely with so many student veterans really opened my eyes to the obstacles student veterans face. Guiding veterans to overcome those obstacles became my mission.
I eventually gave student veterans a list called “John’s College Tips” and those morphed into the chapters in this book. I wrote the first edition of the book, without any professional editing or any help, and published it myself on Amazon. I eventually was contacted by the Association of the United States Army book program, they wanted to do a second edition and get it to more student veterans. The first edition was me on my own, I wrote it quickly, and said the F word over 30 times. So this is the updated version, with more stories, better writing, more research-based advice, and slightly less cursing. I basically wrote this book, then after a year, I rewrote it with my publisher the University of North Georgia Press.
What experience caused you to see a need for your book?
The book didn’t exist. The first stop for so many veterans is college and our performance there propels us forward or holds us back. Beyond that, there are other factors that are important to know, like people with college degrees kill themselves less than people without them. And in a population that suffers from high suicide rates, we should do all we can to combat that. Another obvious point is people with college degrees make more money than those without them, and most people want more money. But it isn’t just about college or getting a degree. College provides a bridge between the military and civilian worlds. It provides a much-needed space for veterans to figure out their identity post-service. Transitioning from the highly structured military into college is a complicated process, my book and companion journal are a guide.
How has writing helped you personally? And changed the way you think?
Writing forces you to be more reflective. It’s caused me to research and look deeper into veteran issues like PTSD. I’ve done lots of interviews and research and the book led to me speaking to congress to legislate for more part-time employment for student veterans. One thing that I heard early on was if you want to be a good writer, be a good reader. That’s led me to read everything I can regarding a lot of different things and that’s led to a lot of personal growth.
Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
In my first week in college I told a guy to “shut the hell up, I was killing people in Afghanistan when you were in Kindergarten.” In my second week, I was having issues with ringing in my ears, and I yelled at a professor “I can’t fucking hear you man, shut up.” I realized I had to get it together or there was no way I would make it. On top of that, I was struggling with some PTSD, and eventually what helped me was helping other veterans. We had a student veteran with no legs, a blind veteran, and other veterans with issues in my college where I worked with. That led to me really seeing a lot of the pitfalls that student veterans fall into and a lot of lessons.
Over 50% of veterans have some kind of service-connected disability, and being a veteran can present challenges in education. But over time, helping other veterans helped me and I came to see the advantages the military mindset provides in the classroom. For starters, we know how to be on time. That isn’t much but being on time or early for my classes impressed my professors and keeping some of our military habits like that is important. Other ones, like cursing every other word or using military jargon are something we can probably leave in the military.
What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will learn from “Combat To College?
There are a lot of important tips in my book that will help student veterans. One chapter is called Build Your Armor and is all about how student veterans gather support around themselves during college. Networking is so big now, so learning how to network as a student veteran is important. I write about that on my blog and other issues that impact student veterans as well. I think the most important takeaway that I want people to have is to Reach Up And Reach Down. It’s my belief that every student veteran should find a mentor and also mentor someone. We are used to coaching, counseling, and leadership in the military. Mentors and mentoring someone keep us on a positive path. We get overly isolated sometimes in the civilian world, mentorship helps that and gives us a needed push forward.
What lessons can a Junior Officer take from your book?
My book is about any veteran looking to better themselves through education. A lot of education occurs outside of the classroom and so does setting yourself up for success. The military and college aren’t just about the diplomas and awards, it’s about becoming the best version of you during that period. And finding and utilizing all of the resources on and around college campuses. I went from a community college dropout before I joined the Army to have a Masters from Harvard, all because I unlocked what being a veteran meant. I took my college career as seriously as I took combat missions, I understood that I had advantages the other students didn’t have, like discipline and grit. I don’t view my book as only being applicable to student veterans but to all veterans who want to learn and better themselves.
What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading Grateful American by Gary Sinise. I’ve been thinking about the gap between the military and civilian populations and how to start mending it. This guy played a Vietnam Veteran in Forest Gump and this role totally transformed his life, he started a foundation, helped countless veterans, and does more for the veteran community than anyone else in Hollywood. I think stories like his show the impact the veteran experience can have on people if we can introduce more people to it.
What books had the most impact on you and your development?
Probably the most impactful book was handed to me after my first deployment when I was struggling. I’m sure a lot of people count it as one of their favorites but The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. I’d never heard of stoicism, and it opened me up to a lot more reading and a new way of thinking. I also was recently impacted by The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. He’s a veteran and a successful writer and his talking about the art of writing as well as his broad range of good books is fascinating to me.
Give us some “Good to Know” facts about you. Be creative.
The most tattooed man with a Harvard degree.
I live in the Dominican Republic because I’ve found nature to be more healing for my PTSD than anything else and there’s a huge veteran population here.
Writing a book is tough, were there any surprises as you set out on that journey?
I found writing to be the easy part, marketing it and selling it are complicated pieces for me. I also like the isolation of writing, it’s something you do on your own. It’s you against you and I enjoy the battle of trying to be creative because I’m really not a creative person. A lot of writing is editing, I write every day and only probably will end up only using half of everything in blogs, guest posts, and future books. I make sure I rewrite everything twice before posting it on my blog and still, sometimes mistakes are inevitable, which is cool with me because life is full of mistakes.
What advice would you give to an aspiring military author? Is there any advice they should ignore?
I think it’s the same for people who start their own businesses or things like that. Some of the people you’d expect to support you don’t and some of your biggest supporters are strangers. Some people will only support you when it’s popular to do so.
I recently published my blog and posted articles on different platforms. My first article was about how nature is a better healer than Xanax. It was about encouraging people to get outside, how our artificial and technology are part of the problem and not the solution for veteran mental health. I have other articles about things like Tattoo Therapy For Veterans and Veterans Should Get Divorced More, And Not Less. I want to engage with people reading my material but so far, it’s been best to just ignore the negative comments. You want to learn a bit from them, to be open to criticism without letting it impact your confidence or writing. There are some people that are just searching for something negative to say.
To go along with this book, I also have a journal which you can see on my website. My journal is a 16-week, week-by-week guide through a college semester for a veteran. It has everything- weekly calendars, college tips, weekly tasks, budgets, and reflections for student veterans to make the most of their semester.
John H. Davis is a decorated combat veteran with multiple tours in Afghanistan. He has
since dedicated himself to veteran advocacy, receiving congressional, legislative, and local recognition. He earned his master’s degree in education from Harvard and his bachelor’s in history from St. Joseph’s College. He has spoken to Congress as a legislative fellow for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Student Veterans of America and is an active member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the US Military Vets Motorcycle Club. John is passionate about traveling, fitness, and veteran causes.