When Rhode Island College M.S.W. student Jerome Musco Jr. was stationed in Iraq as a military police officer in 2007, he and 11 other soldiers in his unit treasured receiving thoughtful, encouraging cards and notes from Americans, particularly schoolchildren.
That’s one of the key points Musco emphasized to a curious group of more than 200 Henry Barnard Laboratory School (HBS) students gathered for a Veteran’s Day observance on Nov. 2.
“Before going out on our daily missions, fellow soldiers and I would look at all the cards sent to us and they made us feel so uplifted,” Musco recalled.
Musco, who earned his B.S.W. at RIC in May 2018, said he’s depending on young students to ensure that veterans aren’t forgotten.
“If the younger generation doesn’t know about the issues that veterans face, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse, then who is going to help the veterans of the future?,” he said. “Children must be taught about the history of the military and what veterans have done for this country.”
Musco joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard in 2002 on the heels of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“I felt like I needed to serve my country after 9/11,” he said. “I looked at my kids and didn’t want them to grow up in a world with these kind of attacks going on. It’s unfortunate that such attacks are still happening.”
Musco offered answers to a number of questions HBS students sent his way about the year he served as a military police officer in a war zone.
One student inquired about his responsibilities as a military police officer.
“Our job was to train people to become police officers because the Iraqi people didn’t have police officers,” Musco explained.
While living in remote locations with no running water, Musco and fellow troops showed Iraqi police recruits how to conduct foot patrols, write reports and build a weapons room.
“Were you scared when you were there?,” another student asked.
“There was always danger around us,” he said. “I experienced excitement, fear and adrenaline all wrapped into one while in Iraq. But we didn’t think about the danger all the time. If we had, it would have overwhelmed us. So we just pressed on.”
In a separate interview after his student presentation ended, Musco said he struggled to find his purpose upon returning to Rhode Island after his time in Iraq.
“My life wasn’t regular anymore because I wasn’t being an army cop,” he said. “I had to find a new identity. I said to myself, ‘What do I do now?’’’
Musco credited Micaela Black, director of the Vet Success on Campus Program (a partnership between Veterans Affairs and Rhode Island’s college campuses) and his School of Social Work internship at the Fellowship Health Resources’ Therapeutic Respite Program in New Bedford for helping to forge his current career path.
“I thank Micaela for being my case manager and providing various trainings to help me with my transition back,” he said. “Through my social work internship, I’ve worked with people experiencing homelessness, severe mental illnesses and substance abuse. When I returned from Iraq, I only wanted to work with veterans, but I feel open to working with anybody now.”
Musco observes while HBS students prepare cards to be sent to veterans.
HBS Interim Principal Jessica Borges, M.Ed ’17 and HBS teachers Becky Klassen, Lorraine Downes and Jennie Schwab, who invited Musco to speak at the school’s Veteran’s Day observance, said the soldier’s presentation was enlightening for students.