A free pre-college program based at the University of Tennessee proved a confidence booster for an East Tennessee marine who moved from the battlefield back to the classroom to earn his university degree.
"They've always been there for me as far as advice. I can always walk in and be greeted and always expect to get help with whatever is going on in life," said Rusty Castleberry who served three overseas tours in four years with the Marine Corps.
At age twenty-four he made the decision to head back to school after close to a half-dozen years of military service. He benefited from the free tutoring, computer access, and financial aid advice offered by the Veterans' Pre-College Program.
"We can usually find a way to help just about anyone who has the will to go to school," said Vicky Cutshall, who helps manage a program serving a dozen East Tennessee counties. They have developed a relationship with most every major university, community college, or vocational institution in East Tennessee.
"All of the things we give them to help build up academically, it's free to them because they've already paid for it. They did their military service," said Ms. Cutshall.
Mr. Castleberry is about to graduate in December. He switched his major from engineering to the Agriculture Department and a job that promises to keep him outdoors. In addition to working on his "turf grass" degree, he fell in love and started his family. The last five years have been full of change but for one key constant, the support he has received from the Pre-College Program staff.
"I didn't think I was going to have kids in the middle of it but it's been a blessing and it's been one heck of a ride," said Mr. Castleberry.