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From Combat to the Classroom: 5 Questions With Student Veteran Jason Tipler

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Heather Hein

Senior Editor

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Jason Tipler (second from left) and fellow student veterans "Ruck for a Cause" in downtown Denver.

Jason Tipler is not your typical University of Denver undergraduate. He grew up on a small farm in southern Tennessee and joined the Air Force right out of high school, and then spent almost a decade conducting and leading special missions around the world. He has worked in 52 countries, including in dangerous combat zones in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Medically retired from the military in 2012, he has been pursuing his undergraduate education for the past four years, first at Louisiana State University-Shreveport and, since 2021, at the University of Denver. With the help of the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program, he is double majoring in Geographic Information Science (GIS) and anthropology and hopes one day to travel the world as a civilian, mapping archaeological sites.

Jason Tipler

From almost the moment he stepped onto campus, Tipler has been involved with and worked in the Office of Veterans and Military Resources. After just a few months here, he became president of the Student Veteran Association. He also serves as director of the Hero Games, an annual event to honor fallen service members that takes place during Homecoming Week, in which four-person teams compete in a series of military-themed fitness challenges.

We talked to Tipler about his experiences in the military and his life as a student.

Why did you decide to join the military?

When I was in high school, 9/11 happened. From that point forward, all I did was watch the news and try to learn about what was happening. And I just knew that was what I wanted to do—I wanted to join the Army. When I was 17, I went to an event to sign up, but the Army representative wasn’t there. Someone from the Air Force started to talk to me, and he explained all the different kinds of jobs I could do—and I ended up joining. I graduated from high school and, two weeks later, I went to basic training in Texas, and then I was stationed in Arkansas. But I was doing a job that I didn’t like, so I applied for a special duty assignment—a special operations military unit in Germany. So, about a year after I signed up, I flew to Germany and joined my new unit.

We had a broad scope of work—we conducted military operations around the world. We jumped into locations, secured airfields and opened up bare bases [essential facilities for a temporary military base], and then the conventional forces would come in and take over, and we’d leave and go do something different. I was one of the team leaders in my unit, and I led missions all over Europe, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. We worked with other special operations units, from the Army and Navy, and units from other countries. We also provided security for U.S. and foreign dignitaries in our AOR [area of responsibility]. I did special missions work for about five years, but my injuries and health caught up to me, so I had to come back to Texas for medical treatment. I was being treated for about a year, and then, in 2012, they decided to medically retire me because my injuries and health issues were just too much.

How did you end up coming to DU?

I didn't have a clue what I was going to do for a while; I was just trying to get better. We were living in Louisiana, and I thought I wanted to get into counterterrorism. So, I went to school at LSU Shreveport for a couple years, studying criminal justice. But then I had a daughter and realized I didn’t want to deploy anymore. I changed my major to biology, but then we moved to Denver. I was looking for a school here; I was trying to find the right fit. I started talking with Damon Vine, the director of Veteran and Military Resources here at DU and had a good feeling. He put my mind at ease about the school and what it’s like at a private university.

What was the transition to college life like for you?  

It's been a wild ride. I'm going to class with 18-year-olds, and I'm 38. They're a lot quicker than I am and a lot more tech savvy. I never intended to go to college—it wasn’t my path. It's not what I wanted. But here I am, and I’m pretty happy. One thing I’m excited about is a program I set up where veterans are mentoring ROTC cadets that go to school here—the goal is to give them insights like, hey, this is what’s it’s really like in the military and have deep conversations about what it is to be a leader in the military. All of these ROTC students are going to be officers; they're going to be leaders immediately. Like, that's a transition.

What’s your favorite thing about DU?

I’m very happy that I’m able to get these degrees and that I’m actually passing the classes. But I’m most happy that we were able to bring back the Hero Games. It's awesome. It's about honoring and remembering those who gave their lives, and I have a lot of friends who did that. I'm just so happy that it came together, and people were so enthusiastic about it and really gave it their all. I’ve also made a lot of veteran friends at DU, too, which kind of brings me back to my military unit. We all have shared experiences and a brotherhood, like, we’ve got each other's back and help keep everything together.

What do you want people to know about student veterans?

Speaking for myself, I'm not outgoing and talkative; I’m kind of quiet and just do my job. But I would say, overall, we're more personable than we may appear. We may be older, but we'd still like to have that same university experience that everybody is having. We don’t want to be secluded. We're happy to talk to anybody who has questions about the military or just wants to talk about life—about an assignment or what’s happening in class. And I welcome anybody to contact me who has ideas about ways they want to be involved, or we can be involved. If someone wants student veterans to be a part of their program or any kind of event, just send me an email.  

You can contact Jason at or the Office of Veterans and Military Resources at or 303-871-5350.

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