Purple Threads: How one student found purpose, experience while serving in the military

(Photo Courtesy of Bill Bernard)

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Purple Threads series, which aims to tell the stories of students who, despite their different experiences, are all connected in some way through K-State.

Six months after he graduated high school in 2011, Bill Bernard, senior in journalism and mass communications, joined the U.S. Air Force. Bernard said he didn’t have a background that lead him to that choice, but he wanted to feel fulfilled in life.

“My ultimate reason for enlisting had been the fact that I didn’t have guidance and I was looking for a purpose in life. I found it in the military even though it was full of difficulties at first,” Bernard said via email.

Bernard served for six years as an intelligence analyst and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. His duties included research, analysis and distribution of information.

In basic training, Bernard said he surrendered to the wills of the drill instructor — everyone was told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. If they didn’t do it, there would be consequences.

“During this time, you exercise a lot and you’re taught many things about the branch that you’re serving and all of the aspects of how you are expected to behave and not bring dishonor to the military, to this country and to yourself and leave in many respects feeling unstoppable and very patriotic,” Bernard said.

(Photo Courtesy of Bill Bernard)
(Photo Courtesy of Bill Bernard)

After basic training, Bernard went to a technical school to learn skills for his position, then on to actually performing his duties. This, he said, was easier. He knew what he had to do and what would happen if he didn’t do it.

“While it takes a while for you to earn that respect, you have to still maintain a level of professionalism,” Bernard said. “But it’s not quite as rigid as many people thought. I did have a fair amount of free time as I worked a regular time schedule of 7:30 in the morning until 4:45.”

In his free time, Bernard said he and many others worked out or did things to work on personal growth such as managing finances or attending classes.

A majority of Bernard’s time in the service was spent at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. After six years, he was honorably discharged and moved to Manhattan to begin his education at Kansas State, which he chose for the journalism program.

“I have not regretted it at any point in time,” Bernard said. “While I’ve been here, it’s given me that same sense of purpose that the military once gave me because many things are uncertain when you leave the safety net that the military provides.”

K-State has the highest number of military affiliated students in Kansas, Ismael Rodriguez, Veteran Student Services coordinator and graduate student in data analytics, said.

“Most of the students that are veterans here on campus are 9/11-era GI bill recipients,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was in the army for 22 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel in October of 2018. His wife is currently stationed at Fort Riley.

Rodriguez said many students affiliated with the military, whether they are a spouse or child, may be facing difficulties others don’t know about. Their family could be stationed overseas or in the process of moving.

“Again, if you’re military connected kid or military grads or the spouse or wife of an active duty soldier, knowing that the veteran center is also a resource for them, we can get them in contact with the whole gamut of resources the university has,” Rodriguez said.

The most common issue military affiliated students have is financial aid related, Rodriguez said. K-State has 815 post-9/11 GI Bill recipients. Sometimes, it takes awhile for paperwork to be filed, which can stress students out. When all is said and done, Rodriguez said they always get their aid.

(Illustration by Bailey Britton | collegian Media Group)
(Infographic by Bailey Britton | collegian Media Group)

In addition to working for Wildcat 91.9 as a DJ, Bernard works for the Veterans Affairs office.

“It’s really just good service to be around like-minded people who have gone through the military and have similar experiences,” Bernard said.

Bernard chose journalism because he wants to pursue the facts and get to the bottom of issues. He wants to know why things are they way they are. He likes working in radio to share conversations and make musical connections with others.

“I like having long-form conversations and I like also going and making music a connection to people’s lives,” Bernard said. “You can not capture all of a story in the allotted time, when you have an hour or more live on the air with musicians or thought-provoking individuals.”

He said his time as an intelligence analyst has made him guarded with secrets. As such, when people trust him, he feels honored.

“I still had the allure of being able to get the facts and present it no different than I did when I would give information to a commander who had to make life-or-death decisions with other people’s lives, as is very common in the military,” Bernard said.

After graduation, he wants to continue working in radio. He said he also wants to pursue podcasting and comedy.

To Bernard, joining the military gave him purpose and he is grateful for the experiences. But he says it isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be a decision taken lightly.

“If you decide to go into the military, make sure it’s for your reasons and make sure that you get what you want out of what you put in,” Bernard said. “I made this choice because I wanted to do something selfless that I felt would add to my life experience and could influence young people like yourself and others to consider that the military can be an option.”

My name is Bailey Britton and I am the former editor-in-chief of the Collegian. Previously, I have been the assistant news editor and the managing editor. I have also interned for the Manhattan Mercury and the Colby Free Press. I grew up in Colby, Kansas, and I am a junior in journalism and English. Through the Collegian, I aim to provide the K-State community with quality news coverage while we learn to serve our campus.