Wednesday November 1, 2017

Fighting A New Battle

By Lauren Karch

One veteran’s insight into the challenges of law school and a look at who she’s preparing to defend now.

Marissa Waters had found her perfect job.

"Overall, I loved being a soldier," she says of her time in the Army.

But then one day, everything changed, starting Waters down a path where she’ll soon be defending others in a much different way.

Waters served nine and a half years in the Army, both as an Army reservist and on active duty. As a Military Police soldier, Waters provided personal security detail and logistics management for generals, worked in detainee operations, and managed security agreements with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

But an injury ended her military career. Afterward, Waters still wanted to work in criminal justice. She had earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice administration after serving in Iraq, but she says the majority of law enforcement jobs available with her expertise had stringent physical requirements.

"I realized, my brain works even if my body doesn't," she says.

So she decided to apply to law school.

“I got accepted to UD. It’s really close to my house – it worked out perfectly” Waters says.

These days, Waters balances law school with raising a family. ("I have four kids, so I got more rest in Iraq than I did at home," she says). Serving as a battle staff NCO in the military - coordinating logistics and managing schedules on-base - has helped prepare her for law school, although law school is a "different kind of stress" than military life.

“It’s interesting because veterans tend to have a do-whatever-it-takes attitude, but for a lot of veterans, especially those of us who were very hands-on, the idea of sitting quietly in the library can drive you crazy,” Waters says.

Marissa and her husband"Battle buddy" coordination with her husband, an aircraft maintenance technician who she met in the Army, also helps her stay on top of six classes this semester. And, she says she's found other classmates in similar situations.

“With my study group, all four of us are moms, which is really neat” she says. “I was lucky to find this group with various backgrounds.”

As a student, Waters is concentrating on criminal law, and says her dream job involves working with veterans.

“Substance abuse among veterans is rampant,” she says, "It's no secret that it can be tough to get help through the VA. Some veterans will self-medicate, especially in situations where admitting you have a problem can negatively affect your career."

Waters worked as a mentor in the Veterans Court of Southern Indiana before starting law school, and places huge value on diversion courts instead of traditional punishment - especially for offenders with PTSD and other mental health issues.

“Throwing a drug addict or veteran with PTSD in prison isn’t going to solve the problem,” Waters says. "There are so many positives to treatment instead of incarceration."

Marissa WatersWaters already connects with other veterans as director of the Veterans and Military Advocacy Group (VMAG) run by UDSL students. VMAG is open to veterans and non-veterans alike. Waters says the group is focused on serving through local partnerships with other veterans' groups. VMAG partnered with the VA for a veteran's outreach program this year, and will assist the undergraduate Veteran Student Association and UD's ROTC with their annual Veteran's Day 5K. Proceeds from the race go to Honor Flight, an organization that provides WWII, Vietnam War and Korean War veterans with travel to Washington, D.C., to visit their national memorials.

Waters intends to “ruck” the 5K on Veterans Day, which means running or walking with a rucksack just like she did all those years she served.

It’s a reminder that even though her mission has changed, her sense of duty to help others hasn’t.

Register to run, walk or “ruck” in the Veterans Day 5K.

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