Meet a Tiger: Brennan Beck
He is all about transitions. He joined the Army five days after he graduated from high school and transitioned from an infantry team leader to the rank of sergeant. He completed two year-long deployments to Iraq, earning a Bronze Star for Valor and a Purple Heart following an enemy attack on his platoon. He then transitioned back to a civilian life that was different from the one he’d left. It was difficult, but he grew from the experience and wanted to help others in their journey. Through his veterans’ writing group (that he created), his work with student veterans and military-connected students, this staff member, who works as Clemson’s assistant director for military and veteran engagement, helps students successfully make the transition from military to civilian life. While he describes himself as a “normal guy,” he’s anything but normal. He’s a hero and he’s a Tiger.
Meet Brennan Beck.
Years at Clemson: Two
What I do at Clemson: My job at Clemson is to serve and support student veterans and military-connected students. I assist veterans as they transition out of the military and into college, helping them navigate many of the unfamiliar resources and services available to them. I also work to connect them with other veterans through outreach events, entertaining gatherings, services and programs, and, most effectively, free food and gifts. I believe that getting connected and feeling like you belong is important for all Clemson students, but especially student veterans since many are making the often-difficult transition out of the military. Many young men and women are starting a new life at Clemson with few connections already in place. I try to help them bridge that gap so they can connect to one another, but also help them to connect with others outside the veteran population so they can build those important relationships and forge their path to success—because in order to succeed in this world, we need to work with all kinds of people and not just other veterans.
I also direct the Clemson Student Veteran Center (204 Tillman), a reserved space for student veterans and military-connected students to meet up, study, or hang out between classes. I facilitate Green Zone Training to inform and educate non-veteran students, staff and faculty about the veteran experience. I advise the Clemson Student Veteran Association and I continue to advocate for better resources, services and accommodations for student veterans and military-connected students at Clemson University. I am also the founder and lead facilitator for the Clemson Veterans Writing Group, a weekly support group open to veterans, dependents, and supporters of the military where members can connect with other veterans and writers, create meaningful pieces of writing, and cope with life’s inevitable challenges and transitions. The group is open to all, but many of the themes and prompts are at least somewhat military related (although I will adapt the prompts to apply to non-military members). It’s a great opportunity to get connected and find an outlet through writing.
What I love about Clemson: Clemson has been an amazing opportunity to grow. When I was first hired here in 2014, I worked as a program coordinator in the English department. I was three months out of college and brand new to the state of South Carolina. Clemson took a chance on me, and I’ve worked hard every day to ensure they didn’t regret their decision. Shortly after being hired, I started looking around for a writing support group for veterans, something that I was involved with in California that helped me with my difficult transition from military to civilian life. I soon learned that no such group existed at Clemson, so I started one. I’m grateful for the support I had from both the English Department and Clemson University, and for those first members who embarked on this new journey with me. I’m proud to say, nearly two years after our start date, we’re still going strong! We average around 10 members per week and have had more than 30 members come and go over the years. A few of our members have been along for the ride since we started in January 2015, and others have come and gone over the months, some for a season, others for longer. Every member has left an impact on the group as a whole and on me as an individual. I’ve seen novice writers hone their crafts, war-suffering veterans open up and find healing, and academic professors switch gears and simply write for fun. It’s been an amazing opportunity that started as a simple idea and a passion to help others, and because of Clemson’s trust and support, we’ve been able to have a positive impact on so many.
A year and a half after starting the Clemson Veterans Writing Group, an amazing opportunity presented itself that I never saw coming: I was hired as the first full-time staff member to serve our veteran population through Student Affairs. This position is so amazing because it combines all of my passions and experiences together allowing me to pull from personal experience and professional understanding to best support this unique and worthy population of students.
My journey so far at Clemson has been one of growth, both personally and professionally. In just a short while, I feel I’ve already accomplished much thanks to the support and trust of so many around me. And so long as Clemson keeps giving me and others opportunities to grow and improve, we’ll keep pressing on and making our mark on the university, our community, and the world.
Accomplishment I’m most proud of: In the military, I was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and Purple Heart awards following an enemy attack that occurred on March 13, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. During a patrol, my vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device (IED), wounding me and my driver, PFC Alberto Garcia, with shrapnel. After the initial explosion, we were attacked by insurgents from three directions simultaneously—it was a complex ambush. The battle lasted nearly a half hour, the whole while the enemy attacked us with everything they had. Because of the actions of me and a few others in my platoon, we were able to repel the attackers and evacuate Garcia without sustaining any further injuries. My wounds awarded me the Purple Heart award and my actions awarded me the Bronze Star for Valor. Unfortunately, my friend Garcia later died from his wounds. I would gladly give up every one of my medals to bring him back, but I know he’s in a better place now, watching over me and my battle buddies from above.
Where I see myself in five years: In five years, I hope to continue to work with veterans at Clemson University. I plan to start a master’s program in the fall part-time, so hopefully I’ll have my degree finished by then. I’ll keep living my life to serve others and try to bring honor to the sacrifices of the 14 soldiers I served with who gave their all in Baghdad.
Last thing I watched on TV: My wife and I are kind of addicted to “Survivor,” but since we don’t have cable, we watch reruns on Amazon Prime. But since neither of us ever saw the old episodes before, it doesn’t really matter since it’s all new to us.
Guilty pleasure: I’m a huge gamer and have been my whole life. Even in Iraq, I had an Xbox that I played after long days of missions and raids. I really like playing military-themed shooters and tactical games, perhaps because it reminds me of my experience in the Army. Or maybe it’s for the slight adrenaline rush I get from playing, because I admittedly live a pretty boring life these days compared to before (by choice, of course).
One thing most people don’t know about me: One thing many people don’t know about me is I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2010 after I honorably discharged from the Army. There was a time when I was ashamed of this, but now I want people to know that PTSD doesn’t mean I’m crazy or dangerous or broken. PTSD is the body’s natural response to unnatural events. I want people to know that, despite my diagnosis, I’m still a regular guy. I enjoy many of the same things as others, I’m easy to get along with, and I’m not a threat to myself or anyone else. I received straight A’s in college, have a beautiful family, serve in my church, and have a successful career helping others. All in all, I’m a pretty normal guy.
I think there’s a horrible stigma revolving PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), especially related to veterans, and I aim to enlighten people to the reality that we’re no different than anyone else. Sure, some of us may have certain triggers or things that we can’t do any longer (I don’t drink for this precise reason), but there are plenty of people without PTSD who are the same way (or worse).
I have PTSD, but that doesn’t make me crazy. In fact, my mom said it best after I returned from Iraq, “If you went through all that you did and you didn’t have trouble afterward, then I’d be worried.” Thanks, Mom, for getting it.
Why is it so important to support veterans? It’s important to support veterans because, without them, none of us would have the life we have. Every freedom and liberty that we so constantly take for granted has a price, and for most of us we never have to know what that price is because of men and women who have fought and died paying it. These men and women have sacrificed their freedoms, left behind their home and families, to serve something bigger than themselves, to fight enemies who would see our freedoms stripped from us, to face an evil in this world head-on so their loved ones back home could be shielded from such wrath and destruction. And, God willing, if those brave men and women return home, we should do everything in our power to lift them up and support them as they transition back. That starts with a handshake and genuine statement of appreciation (“Thank you for your service”), but it shouldn’t end there. Lend a compassionate ear, get to know them, take an active role in supporting veterans who are having trouble. Write your congressmen and push for better services for veterans, donate to a non-profit, volunteer your time to a worthy cause. For many veterans, words of appreciation seem like “lip service,” but no one can question one’s actions. If you truly support veterans, and I humbly believe we all should, then show your appreciation—and I don’t just mean on Nov. 11, but on all days of the year! Because if not for them, we wouldn’t have any of the things that make this country so great—democracy, diversity, security, love, freedom!
(Editor’s note: To Brennan and all of those in the Clemson Family who have served our country…thank you for your service.)
Want to nominate a colleague to be featured in Meet a Tiger? Contact Jackie Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–With Alexa Emerson, Class of 2017