Taking Flight

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Air Force veteran Andy Flanagan has a new mission: helping fellow student vets get the resources they need.

The small things are a big deal to Andy Flanagan.  The UW Tacoma senior spent six years working aircraft maintenance in the United States Air Force.  The experience taught him the importance of being thorough. “Missing a loose screw on the tail of the airplane could be disastrous,” said Flanagan.

Flanagan spent several months at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas learning how to work on aircraft.Attention to detail is one of the strengths Flanagan brings to his new role as Veteran Navigator.  The position is supported by a partnership between UW Tacoma and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  “I’m here to point people in the right direction,” said Flanagan.  “If someone comes to me and they have a problem then I try to connect them with resources both on campus and off.”

Flanagan takes over as navigator in a time of transition.  The Office of Veteran and Military Services is launching a new program this fall.  Peer Advisors for Veteran Education [PAVE] matches incoming student veterans with student veterans already on campus. “We’re going to try and connect students by major so there will always be someone who has experience in that education plan and can provide guidance,” said Flanagan.

PAVE recently expanded its presence from twelve schools to forty-two – including UW Tacoma.  Another one hundred schools are on a waiting list.  The program comes as Veteran and Military Services prepares to move to a new home inside the Tioga Library Building. “I think it’s important to create a good space, a place where veterans can come and have lunch or hang out instead of just going to class and going home,” said Flanagan.

A native of Lacey, Flanagan graduated from River Ridge High School in 2006.  He started at South Puget Sound Community College [SPSCC] but left after two quarters.  Flanagan worked full-time to pay for tuition which he says made it difficult to concentrate on school.

Flanagan joined the Air Force and was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane.  His service included four deployments to Kyrgyzstan where he flew aboard a Boeing KC-135 during refueling missions.  “Every time the aircraft flew it had to have maintenance guys on it,” said Flanagan.  “Whenever we landed that’s when we went to work.”Flight time was typically break time for Flanagan.  His work started once the plane landed.

Before joining the military, Flanagan’s longest trip was to Nevada.  His time in the Air Force allowed him to see large parts of the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.  “I gained a lot of really crucial skills and being able to travel allowed me to have more of an international perspective,” he said.

Flanagan left the Air Force in 2014 and re-enrolled at SPSCC.  Now married, he credits his wife for motivating him to go back to school.  “She was getting her master’s degree when we were dating and that really inspired me to try again,” said Flanagan.

The second time around proved successful for Flanagan.  He graduated from SPSCC and transferred to UW Tacoma in the fall of 2015.  He’s working on a degree in law and policy.  As for life after graduation he’s considering something in the field of sports management or possibly going to law school. 

Those goals are in the future.  Flanagan’s immediate concern is making sure student veterans get the help and services they need.  He’s helping get PAVE started on campus and needs volunteers to serve as peers.  This last detail is crucial to the success of the program, a point not lost on Flanagan. 

“The military was big on community, on the idea of looking after your wingman or your battle buddy,” he said.  “The same idea is true for education.  It’s important to know you have someone who’s looking out for you.”

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / August 23, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu