Military and Campus Leaders: An Exchange of Ideas

During a recent visit, the leaders focused on how best to support the important group they have in common: 18- to 24-year-olds

Group walking through West Campus

The four-hour long gathering marked the renewal of an Educational Partnership Agreement signed in late 2021 by Duke University President Vincent Price and military leaders with the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, meant to “spur innovation, help streamline military processes and provide new research and learning opportunities for Duke faculty and students.”

Fort Liberty’s visit began with a discussion that focused on the demographic challenges faced by both institutions: young men and women, “away from home for the first time,” Melissa Vetterkind, Duke assistant vice president for government relations, had noted. 

The military and campus leaders exchanged ideas about how to help their respective student and military populations succeed, as well as how to address destructive behaviors that can arise with alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, or the stress of social media.

Bryan Sexton, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, noted that among the general population since the pandemic there has been a 27 percent increase in anxiety, a 27 percent increase in depression and 27 percent increase in loneliness.

We have a shared interest to build the confidence of 18- 24-year-olds, and to make sure they’re healthy, strong, rested and yet getting the education or training they need.

Maj. James Micciche

“We all have to learn things from each other,” he said.

Added Maj. James Micciche, “We have a shared interest to build the confidence of 18- to 24-year-olds, and to make sure they’re healthy, strong, rested and yet getting the education or training they need.”

At the crux of the discussion was the need to provide resources to students and soldiers alike to maintain their wellness. Participants agreed that the creative arts and teaching practical life skills can play an integral role in supporting well-being.

Sexton later pointed to the importance of authentic human connections.

“Introverts fared better than extroverts [during the pandemic],” he explained. “One friend is more effective than smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”

Last fall, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy launched a national “We Are Made to Connect” tour of college campuses at Duke to share inspiration and resources aimed at helping students and others connect with each other.

Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Seymour said ideas about “holistic health fitness is kind of new to the Army” and should be included with the elements of how the military defines “toughness.”

Dr. Harold Koenig, Duke professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate professor of medicine, pointed to the eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, financial, social, environmental and spiritual, noting that 18- to 24-year-olds are “least ready when it comes to the spiritual part.”

He added that “spiritual longing” is “genetically driven” and that “18 to 24-year-olds have a deep urge, a need to find that spiritual guidance.”

Bernard Smith, Duke associate director of residence hall operations, leads a tour of Kilgo and Craven dorms.

The sheer number of people to guide is a challenge. Fort Liberty, with more than 52,000 military personnel, “is the most populous center of the Army universe,” said Seymour. “More soldiers, more families, more problems.”

Seymour recalled that when he was a young soldier, he got into trouble because of an alcohol-related incident, and how many young people, then and now, face similar challenges. 

Seymour said in his case there was a probationary period, but no follow up. He described the absence of a post-intervention program as “the missing link.” 

In response, a Duke official pointed to DukeReach, a non-clinical campus resource that supports students “who are experiencing significant challenges related to mental health, physical health, social adjustment, and/or a variety of other stressors,” according to its website.

The two groups ate lunch together at the Broadhead Center and were given a guided tour of the Kilgo and Craven dorms to review how student housing is used to build community at Duke.

“Move-in day at Duke,” Adams explained earlier, “has a military-like precision with the sensibility of Disney World.”

Duke officials will visit Fort Liberty in early May.