CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina colleges aren't waiting until soldiers get out of the service to recruit them as students. The UNC system has developed five programs to help active-duty troops get ready for today's battles.
"We need to strengthen the most important weapon we have, which is the American mind," said Kimrey Rhinehardt, vice president for federal relations for the 16-campus UNC system. "No one does that better than the American university."
UNC officials and faculty have been working for the past year with the N.C. Military Foundation, a private, not-for-profit group of current and retired military, business and government leaders whose goal is to help North Carolina build its defense and homeland security industry.
The partnership has produced courses, workshops and fellowships based on what the Army, Air Force and Marines say they need but aren't able to produce themselves.
The services have their own "war colleges," where senior leaders are groomed for positions in international affairs, including national security and military strategy. Fort Bragg also has the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School, which trains special operations forces as officers, medics, engineers, and communications and weapons experts. And troops are constantly training on the job.
But North Carolina's public universities also are home to experts in fields that can help prepare soldiers for what they will find on the ground in combat zones and in places where the goal is to prevent war from occurring.
Sen. Kay Hagan dropped in on a meeting Monday of the N.C. Military Foundation's board of directors to congratulate the group on what it has done.
Hagan especially likes a UNC School of Medicine program in the works in which special forces medics will treat trauma cases and provide general medical care at the hospital. The school will establish a fast-track physician assistant program that factors in special forces training and experience.
When they've completed their military service, Hagan said, some of those medics might return to North Carolina and help ease the shortage of medical providers in rural communities.
Rhinehardt said that on campuses where programs have been proposed, faculty has jumped at the chance to work with troops.
In one case, she said, N.C. State University was asked to develop a course to help Marine special forces learn how to build a simple structure. Within two weeks, NCSU had developed a five-day short course that Marines attended on campus.
East Carolina and Appalachian State universities have experts in physiology and psychology who can help prepare troops for the mental and physical rigors of combat.
Other colleges can provide instruction on agricultural practices and basic veterinary care, aquaculture and other specialties that can help with economic development in rural areas where troops now work around the world.
UNC system President Erskine Bowles, who attended the meeting Monday, said other states claim to be military friendly.
"What we are is military forward and mission ready in this state," he said.
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