Yellow Ribbon Program Helps Air Force Veteran Pursue Degree

Garrison, at the Berlin Airlift Monument at Frankfurt International Airport, during her first re-enlistment.

Garrison, at the Berlin Airlift Monument at Frankfurt International Airport, during her first re-enlistment.

Bobbie Garrison, a third-year student in Coastal Law’s Family Law Certificate Program, knows a lot about stress. She sees it in the faces of her fellow students as they prepare for classes and exams, but when those same students ask her why she’s unfazed by the pressure, her answer is simple: “Because I don’t have a gun pointed at me.”

A retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant who has been deployed in the likes of Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Garrison has certainly weathered more stressful situations.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared,” Garrison says about her six-month deployment in Kabul. But as the only military paralegal in an office with 14 attorneys from every branch of the U.S. services, plus a representative of the Canadian armed forces and three civilians, she said she was too busy to focus on the danger. Instead, she says the deployment was “a good experience for me. I learned a lot, and I was glad to be able to be part of something I believed in,” helping to establish legal systems for Afghanistan’s government and military.

Now Garrison is applying herself toward something else she believes in: Family Law and the pursuit of justice for the victims of abuse. Making that possible is Coastal Law’sYellow Ribbon Program. When Garrison entered the Program in August 2011, the school provided a $3,000 discount on tuition to qualified veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs matched that amount from the veteran’s GI Bill Benefits.

Thanks in part to Garrison, Coastal Law’s Yellow Ribbon Program benefit has now been increased. She petitioned the school to change the benefit to one-half of the cost of tuition and the petition was accepted. Now, when matched by the VA, the school’s Yellow Ribbon Program can ensure that veterans, or their transferees, will be able to attend the school tuition-free.

Garrison recommends Coastal Law for interested veterans and thinks that individuals with military experience have the tools to make good students.

“Veterans have supervised others, they’ve demonstrated leadership, and they’ve made critical decisions,” she says. “Even if they don’t have paralegal experience, the military is good preparation for law school.”

Graduating in December 2013 has participated in an internship at the Pentagon, where she worked in the office the General Counsel of the Secretary of Defense, and is currently working in an externship with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Jacksonville.

After graduation, she hopes to work for the U.S. Department of Justice or for the Florida Department of Children and Families. While she would prefer to stay in Florida, she says she would be willing to move to Washington, DC for the right position: her first as a civilian after more than 23 years of service.

“The military is very structured,” she say, “and I was often recalled to work in the middle of the night when emergencies occurred. Now, in a civilian setting, that doesn’t happen.”

“On the other hand,” she adds, “I do have to beef up my wardrobe.”