At age 20, Tabitha Peppin gets paid to travel, drive Humvees, and go to school. She is in the Army Reserves.

“Joining the reserves really got me going. I had no idea what I wanted to do at the end of high school but the Army taught me discipline and pointed me in the right direction,” said Peppin. “They paid for me to become an EMT, I am qualified to give shots, I am licensed to drive Humvees and a 5-ton [truck] and they pay for me to go to school to become an LPN.”

Peppin is one of 245 students at USM who receives educational benefits through the armed forces.

Peppin, a sophomore nursing major, travels from her home in Gray to Auburn one weekend a month for drills with fellow members of the 309th combat support hospital. She usually instructs others in CPR there, but at eight months pregnant she is on pregnancy profile and currently answers phones instead.

“I’m not even allowed to stand for more than an hour at a time,” Peppin laughs. “The past few weekends I have had to stay in Auburn while the rest of my unit goes to Massachusetts to camp out in the freezing cold.”

Peppin decided to go on active duty last summer and was shipped to Texas for medical training. After collapsing during a routine 12-minute mile run she made an unlikely discovery.

“They made me go to medical care. After a blood test and urine sample they said `Congratulations, you’re pregnant.’ I was sent home two weeks later.”

Back in Maine, Peppin enrolled for classes at USM as a nursing major and is taking American Sign Language courses in hopes of specializing in treating deaf patients. Right now she gets $250 a month for school from the GI bill as well as $150 a month for the weekend she serves in Auburn. This pays for half of her tuition.

“I’m leaving USM for SMTC though. USM only offers a RN program, not an LPN. The military is in desperate need of LPNs right now. If I go to SMTC they’ll pay for all my books, tuition and $300 on top of that each month.”

In August 1999, Peppin spent three weeks in Haiti battling the AIDS epidemic. She gave flu shots and supplied Haitians with medicine.

“It’s not like the National Guard. They go plow people out during snowstorms and stuff. In the Reserves we get to go to other countries and help the people there.”

As for the possible danger that goes along with military service, Peppin is unconcerned.

“I don’t really think about it. There are risks involved in anything you do.”

Peppin has five years left of her six-year active, two-year inactive contract with the Army.

“I plan on going on as a medic in the Reserves. I will do all 20 years of service. If I re-enlist the Army will pay off any loans I take out and I get a signing bonus for being a nurse. If you enlist just so you can get your college paid for you don’t get all you can out of the Army.”

Many other students at USM qualify for educational benefits from the armed forces. If you are a veteran or the dependent of a veteran and have questions concerning benefits contact USM’s Veterans Affairs Office at 780-4043 or stop in at 119 Payson Smith Hall.

Staff Writer Kate Bucklin can be contacted at: [email protected]

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