— By SALLY SEXTON
Weatherford native Ryan Rafols spent four years fighting for his country as part of the U.S. Army.
Now as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, Rafols has taken it upon himself to fight for his fellow veterans as well as the community of Austin through two ways.
While in the Army, Rafols worked as a missile defense engineer, learning to operate military defense systems, calculating targets and maintaining computer systems.
But when he returned stateside, Rafols found out that the skills he had learned in the Army wouldn’t transfer as college credits.
“I wasn’t a big fan of the bills proposed this (Legislative) session to limit the Hazlewood Act, and any kind of limit to a veteran’s education is kind of ridiculous,” Rafols said.
After the issue gained attention, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, from San Antonio, filed and passed legislation that created the College Credit for Heroes pilot program in 2011. The program helps veterans get college credit for their military service.
Rafols and others spent considerable time lobbying for the program, which was sponsored by Gov. Rick Perry and other political figures and was expected to be voted on during this year’s legislative session but never reached the full House for consideration.
“It’s on a hiatus right now, but it’s not going to get cut,” Rafols said of the pilot program. “But if we can make this a permanent program, then it will garner more respect from other colleges and universities.”
Rafols said there are currently only seven colleges that accept credit from the program. Six more partner colleges have also been awarded grants for the program.
“How the process works (for a veteran) is you get interviewed, they talk with you about credits, get more information on your skills and educational background and help you get the credits you should be awarded with based on your background,” Rafols said. “But most colleges don’t accept that readily because it’s really hard to verify beyond the military transcript.”
Funding for the program will continue through the Texas Workforce Commission, which spent $1.5 million in federal grants to the additional six schools.
As a UT/Austin Community College student, Rafols has also used his military background and experience to become the lone student to serve on Austin’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission, made up of diverse community members, is responsible for splitting the city up into voting districts for the November 2014 city council elections.
The citizens of Austin by majority voted for the amendment to the Austin City Charter on the ballot of the last election to create a commission to create 10 fair single member districts rather than the city council.
“Instead of letting city council and the politicians decide (the districts), the citizens voted to create the Independent Redistricting Commission,” Rafols said.
Rafols was chosen to represent students as well as veterans, for the 10-year appointment, and was sworn in in June to the 14-member commission.