Finding Community at DePaul, as a Combat Veteran

By Neil Fotre

Almost 10 years ago, I left the U.S. Army. I boxed away all my gear and embraced the luxuries of civilian life in Chicago, like flushing toilets and readily available pizza.

Military transition was and is a weird experience to say the least. It is filled with situations and emotions that can paint you with a veneer of confidence but with an underlying feeling of being different or somewhat out of place. The experience of feeling out of touch or alone inevitably projected my brain back to memories where I ironically felt comfortable; in combat, I felt like I had a community.

Neil Fotre (left)

Combat is controlled chaos. It is exciting, exhilarating and it kind of smells and sounds like a Fourth of July fireworks show. After any successful engagement, you are left with a feeling that you have won the most competitive sporting event of your life. The most rewarding piece is sharing the event with a group of people that suffered through the proverbial suck together. We ran into the breach together not because we hated what was in front of us, but because we loved what we left behind.

DePaul University and the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business do not smell like a Fourth of July fireworks show, but they do offer something I’ll always miss about my time in the army. The university makes it a point to provide a community and a support network for veterans that other Chicago-based universities do not offer.

More than 500 hundred veterans currently attend DePaul. I can affirmatively attest to the fact that the school provides direct support to all veterans for our unique needs via a veteran student organization and a veteran’s office. Also, there is a veteran’s student lounge in the downtown campus where they do not check veteran ID’s… It doesn’t matter though, because “we” know.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to serve as the president of Kellstadt Partners, a student organization that is charged with the sole mission of cultivating lasting relationships within the Kellstadt community. I am not entirely sure if the board members – TJ Valentor, Jason Giamou, Egle Visgintas and Delia Perez – would assault an enemy emplacement with me, but they are outstanding at planning and hosting events for the community. Aside from this, they along with many other students have offered me their time and support throughout many group projects during the school year. Walking off the battlefield with all your arms, legs, fingers and toes is quite a feeling, but so is getting an A in a tough course.

Military transition and carrying the title of “combat veteran” in a civilian world is always a bit of an isolating experience. However, being a student at DePaul University makes it slightly easier because of the community and the opportunities the university provides veteran students. I’ll always cherish my time ducking and dodging the zips and wizzes of machine gun rounds. Yet, overcoming case studies and group project deliverables with a like-minded team of motivated individuals is a rewarding substitute. Most importantly, I always have a hot shower available, a fresh change of clothes and a warm bed to sleep in at the end of a long day.

Neil Fotre is a full-time MBA candidate at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and the president of DePaul student organization Kellstadt Partners. He is a former United States Army cavalry officer and current seltzer aficionado. He has an MSJ in investigative journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in English from John Carroll University. In-between D2L discussion posts, he enjoys push-ups and poor attempts at rudimentary math without the use of a calculator. He does not oversell his cooking ability but everything he makes is edible.


Check out these veteran student resources at DePaul University:

Veteran student admission information

Veteran student services 


Posted on

November 10, 2021