A Community of Service: Charles Pearman

Charles Pearman is a senior electrical engineering major at MSU and is president of the MSU Student Veterans Association. He served six years in the U.S. Navy as a Mandarin Chinese linguist. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Like generations of sailors before him, Charles Pearman joined the United States Navy to see the world and pay for college.

Two weeks after signing up and qualifying to be a linguist, Pearman arrived at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago for boot camp.

“Boot camp was a lot of long hours,” Pearman said. “They try to teach you little, subtle things through doing very generic things. We spent a lot of time folding clothes so we could learn to be precise, so we could learn to pay attention to detail, so that we could learn to follow instructions, things like that.”

After six years in the fleet, the Tupelo native is now a senior electrical engineering major at Mississippi State University. He is also the president of the MSU Student Veterans Association.

“After boot camp, I went out to Monterrey, California where they taught me Mandarin Chinese, then I transferred out to Hawaii, where I worked for the NSA (National Security Agency) for about four-and-a-half years,” Pearman said.

Pearman said with his own personal service as a linguist and cryptologist, college was not a difficult transition for him. However, he said his experiences were not representative of all student veterans. He said the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans and organizations, such as the Student Veterans Association, offered a community and replacement for a sense of camaraderie often lost with a return to civilian life.

“Once all of us got out of the military, our respective branches, one thing many of us missed was that camaraderie we had with each other,” Pearman said. “You really do build a family-style relationship with the people with whom you work. I would spend Thanksgivings and Christmases with my shipmates from the Navy, rather than coming home and trying to spend it with family a lot of the time. Most holidays I did that. They became my family.”

Pearman said the most difficult factor relatingto his civilian classmates at MSU was his age.

“A story I like to tell everyone who asks me about it is my first day of class, I walked into English comp I and said ‘hello’ to the instructor and call him by name,” Pearman said. “Everyone asks me ‘how do you know our instructor,” and I tell them I went to high school with them. At that point they realize I’m a little bit older than them. I’ve done a few different things … It’s hard for us to relate on several plains. I’ve been self-reliant living on my own and taking care of myself for longer than some of these kids have been in high school or before.”

He said veterans often see the world differently than civilian traditional students and sometimes come to school with more purpose and determination to do well. He also said veterans sometimes had to deal with misconceptions and preconceived notions.

“I think some people expect veterans to all have PTSD and all be kind of on-edge and maybe even be aggressive, but I think those people who view veterans that way are a minority,” Pearman said. Pearman also lauded MSU’s treatment of its veteran students, with several programs, facilities, opportunities and organizations. Pearman said for several years running, MSU had been ranked as a top institution for veterans. Currently, 650 veteran students attend MSU, with the number growing to 2,600 with dependents and other family added.

“They really do take care of us,” Pearman said. “Students appreciate our service all the way up to President (Mark) Keenum, who works hard to try to make this a welcoming environment for veterans.”

Pearman said while veterans almost never seek recognition for themselves, it is humbling for most veterans to be thanked for their service.

“I think it’s important for the country and community to recognize that service to help us appreciate the life we do have,” Pearman said.