"If things were different in the past I wouldn't be where I am today, and I like where I am today."
These are the words of Kurtis Reilly, a man who has served his country before making the decision to go back to school.
Sgt. Reilly served in the Marine Corps from 2002-2009. While in service, he lived in Okinawa, Japan, serving in the 9th Engineer Support Battalion. In 2004, he was stationed in Jacksonville, N.C., with 2nd Tank Battalion 2nd Marine Division. He was then moved again in 2005 to Fallujah, Iraq. Finally in August 2006, he transferred to the Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico, Va., to finish his service.
"I can't say that I always wanted to be a Marine, but I have always liked learning about military history," Reilly said. "When I was 18, I came home one night and told my mom that I was going to enlist in the Marines."
As a 29-year-old military veteran, Reilly came to UW-Whitewater through unconventional means.
"I don't think I was mentally ready for college before the Marines," Reilly said. "I would have partied when I was younger, and the Marines gave me the time to mature, the discipline to always do what's right and the courage to get it done."
Born in Burlington, Wis., Reilly grew up in Beloit, but now lives in Stoughton. Reilly commutes 43 miles each day to school, which takes about an hour-and-a-half of his time.
Lynn Becker, assistant director of adults, online, and veteran student admissions, said Reilly has flourished since he enrolled at UW-Whitewater.
"His presence enriches the diversity on our campus and shows other non-traditional students that it is never too late to follow their dreams of attaining a college degree," Becker said.
Reilly's military service enables him to qualify for educational assistance, a program created by the Department of Defense through the 9/11 GI Bill.
While in Iraq, Reilly was also hit with an improvised explosive device, receiving a traumatic brain injury, or T.B.I. Along with his Virginia disability benefits, Reilly doesn't have to worry about finding employment while he attends school.
"I guess you could say it allows me to focus on my academics and not on my financial situation," Reilly said.
Student Services Coordinator of adult and non-traditional students Lynn Smith said she is impressed with how serious Reilly is about his degree.
"Reilly is self-motivated and takes initiative," Smith said. "I have no doubt he will accomplish all his goals in life."
Reilly's major is undeclared and he expects to graduate with his degree in 2015. Reilly is currently taking 13 credits and said he hopes to figure out what subject he enjoys most.
Though Reilly has had his ups and downs, he said he really needed the experience life as a Marine before he went back to get his education.
"The Marines have definitely taught me to be mentally tough, to dig down deep and keep going," Reilly said.
During free time he enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and repairing old guns.
"My motivation to keep me going is thinking of my end goal, which is graduation," Reilly said. "Some days you just have to find the biggest straw you can and suck it up."