In 2018, Gunnery Sergent Stephen Williams was preparing for a real-world contingency operation that had a potential for high casualties. His unit was planning to coordinate air support from the ground.

“Not all of us were going to come back,” he said.

Thankfully, his unit did not end up being mobilized for the mission, but he still called the experience a “wake up call.”

“It reminded me how I ultimately felt about my role,” Williams said. “It reminded me of my purpose as to why I was there and how I feel like I could better myself for when the day comes that something big happens.”

“It reminded me of my purpose as to why I was there and how I feel like I could better myself for when the day comes that something big happens.”

One way Williams decided to better himself was to further his education. Williams grew up in a small coastal town in Oregon and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2012. He has been to 15 countries and 42 states. Williams has served in various roles throughout his career with his primary roles being in supply chain and logistics and as a recruiter. Currently, he works in logistics and supply chain. In August 2022, Williams enrolled at PLNU to study business management. He will be commissioned as an officer when he graduates and will follow a designated career path for supply chain and business within the Marine Corps.

As a 29-year-old attending college, Williams was drawn to Point Loma because PLNU is a Christian university and a place where he felt he could make an impact. One way Williams does that is by participating in PLNU’s Student Veterans of America (SVA). In his first year, he was in charge of the group’s communications. This year, he is the SVA president.

PLNU’s Student Veterans of America works to build a community among student veterans, military affiliated, and non-military affiliated students.

“I want to help my fellow service members and veterans with anything that could come up,” he said. “Most people enlist with the understanding that they could die. There is a unique bond with those who understand that. People go through unique or life-threatening situations. SVA brings us together and offers the kind of familiar camaraderie of the military.”

While SVA has been an important part of Williams’ PLNU experience, he also appreciates the opportunity to interact with students who aren’t affiliated with the military.

“Most people enlist with the understanding that they could die. There is a unique bond with those who understand that. People go through unique or life-threatening situations. SVA brings us together and offers the kind of familiar camaraderie of the military.”

“Going to Point Loma, I’ve talked to a lot of civilians,” he said. “It really invigorates me to just go ahead and remind myself that there is a life outside the military. It’s refreshing to have a fresh take on supply chain and the world from different people.”

Williams has also enjoyed building a relationship with Tom Egan, PLNU’s director of military programs and a Navy veteran. Egan and his team help military affiliated students like Williams with a variety of needs. They certify their benefits, connect them to local military support organizations, and function as advocates.

“My team works to ensure their benefits are taken care of on time for tuition, housing, and book stipends,” Egan explained. “If they are having an issue at home or a service-related requirement, we advocate for them so there is no negative impact on their education.”

There are approximately 600 PLNU students with a military affiliation. Many are dependents or spouses of military members. Others are active duty, ROTC, or veterans. Currently, about half are using a military benefit to help pay for their education. They are all welcomed by SVA.

“Going to Point Loma, I’ve talked to a lot of civilians. It really invigorates me to just go ahead and remind myself that there is a life outside the military. It’s refreshing to have a fresh take on supply chain and the world from different people.”

In 2022-23, U.S. News & World Report ranked PLNU the 8th best college for veterans in the West region. PLNU is a Principles of Excellence institution, which means it adheres to formal guidelines for providing support to military students.

“Many of PLNU’s military-connected students utilize a variety of earned military benefits, including Chapter 33 Post-9/11 GI Bill®,” Egan explained. “Those students who are using Chapter 33 and are entitled at the 100% benefit level are also eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program, which provides additional funds to help cover the tuition and fees that may not be covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Participating schools enter an agreement with the Veterans Association (VA), and the VA matches each dollar the school contributes up to 50%. PLNU is very generous as it pertains to this program as every eligible student receives the Yellow Ribbon benefit.”

Another way that PLNU demonstrates its support for the military is by offering a tuition discount to students who are on active duty and enroll in one of the adult degree completion programs.

Being in the military always involves risk. So does pursuing an education. For students like Williams, those are risks worth taking. It helps to know that God has a plan, and that they are at a university where they are supported.

“Ultimately, I say, ‘Jesus, take the wheel,’” said Williams.

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.