By Mindy Ayala-Diaz
Hampton Roads, Virginia - Tucked away in the southeastern coast of Virginia is Hampton Roads, a nexus of military might. This region, with its sprawling military bases and a rich tapestry of servicemen, women, and veterans, embodies the spirit of service. And now, emerging from its core are heroes of a different kind: veterans transitioning from defending borders to healing minds.
In the heart of this transition stands Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education and Professional Studies (DCEPS), where veterans are rewriting their narratives.
Bert Landingin, an active-duty serviceman, exemplifies the spirit of transition. Born in the Philippines, Bert's youth was spent dreaming of skies and seas beyond. His ten-year service in the U.S. Navy saw deployments to the Middle East and humanitarian missions like Hurricane Maria relief in 2017. Today, he's at ODU, aiming to be a bridge between the military community and therapeutic counseling. Bert’s commitment to continuing service even outside the uniform is palpable. He underscores, “Even when I’m not in uniform, I continuously try to serve my fellow service members and their families.”
It’s the sentiment of service that binds Wayne Handley as well. Starting as a Marine in 1990, Wayne's journey took him to crisis areas around the globe. From being an airborne paratrooper to serving as a paramedic, Wayne's roles changed, but his zeal to serve has remained constant. Now, as he works towards his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at ODU, he’s preparing to serve in a new capacity: safeguarding the mental well-being of Hampton Roads' citizens. Wayne was selected to be honored at the 2023 University Veterans Day Observance Ceremony.
The narrative of service and transition is also found in Stephanie Dobbelaere’s story. Her military chronicle aboard the Nimitz and the Theodore Roosevelt equipped her with skills to deal with life’s most pressing challenges. A sabbatical through Southeast Asia and Europe opened her eyes to another calling: helping veterans reclaim their mental peace. As Dr. Mark Rehfuss, chair of the Department of Counseling & Human Services department at ODU puts it, "If I was looking for a person who will become a great counselor, I would choose Stephanie."
Lastly, we meet Caitlin Kirby. The vast expanses of the Navy contrasted the confines of her hometown in Anacortes, Washington. But it was in these contrasts that Caitlin found her purpose. The structured world of data analytics in the Navy now empowers her to analyze and understand human emotions. Through ODU’s Human Services program, Caitlin dreams of merging her military precision with her passion for helping others.
DCEPS Dean Tammi Dice is passionate about ensuring that the Darden College provides a supportive and empowering environment for student veterans as they transition into new roles as mental health professionals and beyond.
“I am incredibly proud of Bert Landingin, Wayne Handley, Stephanie Dobbelaere, and Caitlin Kirby, and their remarkable journeys from military service to mental wellness advocacy. Their commitment to serving others, even after leaving their uniforms behind, exemplifies the values that ODU holds dear,” shared Dice. “We stand with these heroes as they continue to contribute to the well-being of Hampton Roads, and we look forward to seeing their continued success in their endeavors to promote mental wellness.”
These stories from ODU's Darden College of Education and Professional Studies aren’t just tales of personal evolution, but a testament to the broader transformation happening in Hampton Roads. These student veterans have resilience, determination, and dedication that are an inspiration to all of us at ODU as we continue our mission of making a positive impact to our community. From their service to their country and now to their communities, these veterans are ready to ensure that the region remains a beacon of strength and healing.