Elizabeth O’Herrin was set to join the Air National Guard on September 10, 2001. But her plan was delayed, because “the officer who was to swear me in was not present and I was asked to come back a few days later.” Not having been sworn in officially, Elizabeth could have backed out. Instead, on September 13, 2001, at the age of 17, with her parents’ consent, Elizabeth enlisted in the Air National Guard.
After three deployments to the Middle East as a munitions system technician – fusing, assembling, inspecting, and transporting bombs and missiles – and seven years of total service time, Elizabeth found her hardest battle not that of working in a combat zone, but rather that of reintegrating into college life with only three days of transition. As a returning veteran, her educational experience became a rough one – having to learn about benefits here, services there and trying to find a community anywhere. Through all of this, Elizabeth found a passion for veterans issues, specifically veterans education, and in 2008 after witnessing the same experience from many of her fellow veterans struggling to transition to college after the military, she co-founded the national nonprofit organization Student Veterans of America, with a prime focus of advocating for a new GI Bill.
After the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Elizabeth joined the American Council on Education and spearheaded efforts to ensure the new benefit was successfully implemented on campuses across the country. With veterans issues now her life focus, Elizabeth is pursuing a Master of Arts in Government from Johns Hopkins University to expand her veterans work beyond education to include mental health, homelessness, and disabilities – all issues that prove impeding to veterans pursuing college degrees and meaningful careers. A strong believer in the positive impact of peer support, Elizabeth intends to build a career that embraces a “veterans helping veterans” mentality.