Hunched over a desk with neatly organized piles of textbooks, notebooks and highlighters scattered about, Casey Tiesman prepares to tackle his difficult course load. It’s hard to imagine that a little over a year ago he was at his base in Camp Pendleton in California as a U.S. Marine.
Tiesman, now 24 and a college student, said he joined the Marines when he was 18. The 9-11 terrorist attacks and his parents’ decision to separate influenced his decision to enlist. He said he also had a desire to succeed in life and felt the Marines would help him reach that goal.
A tall, muscularly built man with sandy blond hair, Tiesman was in the Marines for about five years. He said the hardest thing about his deployment was the exhausting conditions his body and mind endured.
“You get drained mentally and physically, so much that it tears you apart. You take one day at a time because you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
According to Columbia College Chicago’s veteran coordinator, E.J. Talbot, Columbia currently has 110 students who have served in the military. By comparison, the University of Illinois at Chicago currently has 704 students that were in the military, according to Annette Wright, the University of Illinois’ director of veteran affairs. At Loyola University Chicago, 1,104 students receive veteran benefits, and at the University of Chicago, the number is 104, according to school officials.
Tiesman finished his contract with the Marines in August 2009 and not only came back to Illinois, but also to the civilian life around him. He said Marines in the infantry often view civilians as “disgusting — not as in a derogatory way, but in the way of their mannerisms, how they present themselves, how they talk and act … Some people seem that they don’t have enough self respect.”
Tiesman also said transitioning back to the civilian world isn’t easy. “You feel like you have a lack of accomplishment because in the Marine Corps, you’re overseas every day serving in a war, and what you’re doing is helping someone in some way shape or form, and you have pride in that. When you come back, especially if you don’t start school or have a good job right away, you just feel helpless and that the things you do don’t matter.”
Tiesman is a junior at the University of Illinois Chicago and is studying kinesiology with a concentration in pre-med. Although he is in one of the most challenging majors, Tiesman says he doesn’t feel the regular pressure that most college students do, and that he has the Marines to thank for that.
He said that while he was in the Marines, he was pushed mentally and physically to areas he didn’t even know existed, making him realize, “School is just school; all you have to do is come home and study and make it seem like it is a job. Knowing what your capabilities are and work hard to train yourself, you can get through anything,” said Tiesman.
Tiesman said that the reason he chose to study kinesiology was because of his love for sports and the human body. He also said he hopes that whatever he learns in school, he will also instill in his family. “I had two grandmothers pass away from diabetes and I thought that if I could learn more than what my family knows I could help them, teach them the right way and help them live longer.”
Tiesman said the school isn’t the only high-pressure situation the Marines have helped him defeat. “Fear, you don’t really fear a whole lot. You went through hell and high water with [fellow Marines]. When bullets start flying at you, you’re not really scared because you know the guy on your left and right are going to do what they are supposed to do and you’re going to get out of it pretty easily,” said Tiesman.
He said the Marines also helped him control his emotions and he now feels that he can turn them on and off. “Emotions in war overseas will get you killed,” he added.
Tiesman said when he was first deployed overseas, he developed a close friendship with a fellow Marine who committed suicide. He had no other friends and did not call upon his family for help and support. Tiesman said he learned to rely only on himself and become totally self-sufficient.
Even though he has conquered many difficult situations, he isn’t completely fearless. “Failure is my worst fear. I fear failure more than anything in my life. If I was to fail at anything it would be the most disappointed I have ever been in my life. Because you don’t allow people to see what your personally capable of to the fullest extent.”