Military veterans looking to earn a college degree after active duty face unique challenges compared with recent high school graduates. Northern Arizona University, which continually earns high rankings for its efforts serving veterans, has a busy Veteran Success Center, offering students a place to connect, study and get formal support.

“I come here every spare moment I have throughout the day,” said Ron Allen, a Marine veteran who discovered the center during his second semester at NAU.

Impressed with initiatives for student veterans, Allen took a job as a mentor to his peers. “I work one-on-one with all the veterans who transfer to NAU, making sure they have a smooth transition.”

Jamie Murtagh, an Army reservist who worked in network operations during one of her two tours in Kuwait, spends time in the center because of the camaraderie she’s found. “It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, coming here makes it better.” Murtagh, who graduates next month, has accepted a job offer from General Motors in Austin.

Former Marine Zach Hamilton said the student veteran center was under construction when he first came to NAU and since it opened, his entire university experience changed. “Coming in here each day lightens my mood, helps me put things in perspective and has made me more open as a person in my classes.”

Hamilton is a political science major studying Arabic. His experience as a soldier in Afghanistan influenced his desire to gain more cultural understanding and work to find ways to meld ideals of democracy with Middle Eastern culture.

During this Veterans Day week, NAU’s Veteran Success Center was as busy as usual, with more discussion about what it means to be a veteran. “Here, we’re all family, brothers and sisters in arms,” said Murtagh. “On Veterans Day, it’s a time for the rest of America to remember that freedom isn’t always free.”