Navy veteran and Copiah-Lincoln Community College graduate Joshua Werst sits in a lecture hall at the Natchez campus on Friday afternoon. Werst served eight years in the Navy and graduated with his associate’s degree on Friday. He is looking to continue his studies at either the University of Southern Mississippi or Mississippi State University. Werst earned several awards and recognition during his eight years serving in the Navy. Among several of them are two cannons indicating he was a gunners mate, below. (Photo by Rod Guajardo \ The Natchez Democrat)

Archived Story

Veterans transition into classroom, working world

Published 12:01am Sunday, May 13, 2012

NATCHEZ — Transitioning from a military life overseas to a 9 to 5 job or class schedule wasn’t the easiest thing for two Miss-Lou veterans.

After serving eight years in the Navy and traveling to 42 countries, Pennsylvania native Joshua Werst decided to settle in Natchez to spend time with his daughter and enroll at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

From running counter drug ops in South America to sitting in a classroom all day, Werst, 29, said adjusting to college and small town life was a challenge.

“It was very difficult because — serving for eight years — it just becomes a way of life and then all of a sudden it’s over,” Werst said. “It just happens so quickly, but you learn to adjust to your surroundings.”

After becoming the first person in his family to graduate high school, Werst said joining the Navy was the clear choice for continuing his education — even if he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do.

“I had achieved all of my goals at 18, so I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, but I knew I wanted to go back to school,” Werst said. “The military definitely helped me discover a lot about myself and helped mold me into the person I am today.”

During his two years at Co-Lin, Werst said he was able to spark his interest in engineering and is looking to continue his education at either the University of Southern Mississippi or Mississippi State University.

“I think I’m back in the education groove and ready to move on to a bigger institution,” Werst said. “Natchez was a challenge because I’m not used to the small town environment, so I’m looking forward to being in a larger city.”

With his associates’ degree in hand and a tough school decision ahead, Werst said the feeling of accomplishing one goal and starting another is bittersweet.

“It’s a big accomplishment, and I’m very happy, but at the same time I’m kind of sad,” Werst said. “I’ve built a lot of relationships with people here, and it will be hard to let those go, but I’m looking forward to starting the next chapter in my life.”

Unlike Werst’s service time, which involved eight consecutive years, Natchez native Rosetta Knight’s military service has taken her on a roller-coaster ride of traveling, education and employment.

Knight joined the Army Reserves after graduating from Natchez High School in 2002 with the intention of using the military money to pay for her education.

After being pulled out of Tugaloo College in Jackson to go to Fort Campbell, Ky., Knight enrolled at Co-Lin while she was on standby with her unit.

But shortly thereafter, Knight packed up and moved to Las Vegas to expand her horizons, join another unit and continue her education.

“I was in school in Las Vegas, but after a while my unit got sent to Kuwait,” Knight said. “The whole time I was just thinking — I joined the military for college money, but that’s not happening because I keep getting pulled out of school.”

Despite her desire to continue her education, Knight said her time in Kuwait allowed her ultimate path to shine through.

“I actually got saved over there and was able to find God, and after that I knew that His plan was for me to come back to Natchez,” Knight said. “From there, things have just been lining up.”

After returning from Kuwait, Knight enrolled at Co-Lin again and was able to graduate with her associate’s degree in accounting.

“One of the things I decided to do was to go ahead and get my associate’s degree, because every time I started a four-year university, they would pull me out,” Knight said. “There’s always the possibility that you’ll be pulled out again, so I just wanted to have that degree in my hand.”

But before enrolling at Co-Lin, Knight became a licensed Realtor and was able to cross off a personal goal off her list.

“Property management and property investment have always been something that I’ve been interested in,” Knight said. “For that, I have to have to be a licensed Realtor and have a degree in business or accounting, so that’s what I’m working on now.”

To gain further experience in the world of business, Knight took a position as a teller at Britton & Koontz Bank, where she currently works while juggling school at Alcorn State University.

With an expected graduation date from Alcorn in May 2013, Knight said her unit is scheduled to depart overseas just two months before.

“I’m just praying that I’ll be able to finish before I get shipped out again, but you never know what will happen,” Knight said. “It’s just a reality you have to face when you’re serving in the military.”

But until next year, Knight said she will keep focused on her studies, work hard and live her life to the fullest.

“Being from a small town like Natchez, a lot of times you think you’re living in a box and don’t know there’s another world out there,” Knight said. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride, but the military has shown me that there is so much more to life.”