Frank Hill, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, is currently attending NECI as an AOS culinary students through his GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon benefits and was recently featured in an article written by Alexa McMahon for The Boston Globe:. Alexa McMahon can be reached at email@example.com.
Christopher “Frank” Hill discovered a refuge and career in his garden, where he found solace after returning from Iraq. A visit from his mother sparked a greater interest. As he tells the story, she told him, “You are actually happy. I haven’t seen you like this in years,” and Hill took it to heart.
“It got me thinking, you know what, you are probably on to something,” he says. “[Gardening] made me realize maybe I can help other people.”
In 2013, the Ludlow, Mass., native enrolled at New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., to study culinary arts in the two-year associates program. Hill, 28, hopes to expand his education to agriculture with the goal of opening a restaurant on a farm with other veterans.
After serving in the US Army on active duty from 2007 to 2011, the veteran is eligible for the Post 9-11 GI Bill. The original GI Bill, created by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, celebrated its 70th anniversary in June. The bill and its subsequent expansions, which offer funds for training and education, are a key resource for veterans transitioning to civilian work.
NECI’s annual tuition and fees are around $24,000 per academic year and the GI Bill covers about $20,000 of that. The Federal Pell Grant and the school’s Yellow Ribbon program cover his outstanding balance. He took out Federal Stafford loans to buy a car.
In addition, the GI Bill gives the vet a monthly $1,600 to $1,800 housing allowance. For cheap rent, he lives in a small cabin in the Worcester, Vt., woods. While he’s a fulltime student, it’s difficult to work another job. “The most expensive thing is food. [The allowance] leaves me right above the poverty line, which is not too fun,” says Hill.
But he has overcome other obstacles. After dropping out of Ludlow High School and subsequently earning a GED in 2004, he tried to enlist in the Army three times but was denied because of a visible tattoo on his neck (not allowed at the time). He held several short order cook positions, but at establishments that didn’t handle food properly or give employees good working conditions.
His grandfather’s World War II stories motivated him to persist in his Army application, and in 2007, he received a waiver and joined 1-21 Infantry Battalion out of Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. That year, the unit deployed to Iraq, where they were stationed at a base in farmland outside of Baghdad. They worked closely with local sheiks and other respected members of the Iraqi communities who helped US forces with redevelopment efforts. Once his unit moved and operated in Abu Ghraib, Hill felt they were making less of a positive impact. “It seemed like more and more money was being spent and not much was being done with it.
“They told us the reason for going over was to ensure freedom and the American way of life,” says Hill. “I never understood why we had to go to Iraq to secure the American way of life.”
Returning to Schofield Barracks in 2009, Hill held cookouts for fellow soldiers and their families. After 15 months of combat, he was happy to offer his comrades a place to relax and eat good food. He spent Fridays and Saturdays cooking, spending as much as $250 of his own money. He even invited soldiers over so he could prepare their favorite meals, and learned diverse specialties from around the country.
Recently at a Montpelier American Legion, he volunteered to cook at the NECI event “Vets Serving Vets.” “To share food with people who are excited and they like it makes everything worth it,” says Hill.
“Vets Serving Vets” NECI event.
Spinach lasagna and salad were offered at “Vets Serving Vets.”
Hill found the transition to civilian life difficult at times. He faced insensitive questions from friends and strangers. At first he responded aggressively but decided it was more effective to answer with a question. “Their whole idea of what the military is like is based off of video games and movies, and a little bit of what they see on the news,” says Hill. “I try to flip it around and make them realize that it’s no video game. Think about what you are asking me and try to put it in my perspective.”
The Boston Marathon bombings was an unsettling time. “I only prayed a few times while I was in the Army. One of the prayers that I said was what happened over there would never come over here,” says Hill. “For me seeing that was devastating.”
He admits to still wrestling with the transition, but culinary school has given him the opportunity to work in an industry he is passionate about. When it’s time to do an internship next year, he wants to work in a fine restaurant where care and thought go into the menu.
NECI allows Hill to apply the high standards he uses in the garden to the kitchen. Some day he’ll get to combine the two.
The original story can be found here.