4-year Naval veteran finds new life at KU
By: Kate Miller | @_kate_miller_
Roger Bush’s day is like any typical student’s: he’s up early, he takes his dog for a walk before class, he comes home for lunch, walks his dog again, returns to campus to finish classes and comes home to have dinner with his girlfriend. He spends most of his free time working on homework, using his weekends to master algebraic jumbles. His major is undecided, and he’s spending his first semester getting acclimated to the college lifestyle.
Bush, however, can hardly be considered a typical student. In his 49 years, Bush, a 24-year veteran of the Navy, has seen 22 years and 8 months of active duty, co-owned a successful entrepreneurial career and raised a family, including three children and seven grandchildren. Following a short retirement phase, Bush is back working full-time—this time, as a student.
“[My retirement] brought me to KU,” Bush said. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
Born in 1965, Bush was raised in Parsons. The U.S. military was integral to his life from the beginning: Bush’s nine uncles on his father’s side were all members of the military, and his uncle on his mother’s side was in the Navy, as well as Bush’s older brother. Bush followed the family tradition, joining the Navy as a welder after he graduated from high school in 1984.
“About halfway through my senior year, I decided I was going to join the Navy,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in school at the time, and that was one way to get on a job track.”
As a member of the Navy, Bush began to travel the country and, eventually, the world. Bush first traveled to Charleston, where he spent four years, met his wife, and had his first child. Despite this, he decided to stay in the Navy, and was transferred to New Orleans.
In New Orleans, Bush did a short tour of duty on a patrol boat. His third child was born in New Orleans (the second being born in Kansas). Bush was soon back at sea in North Virginia. From there, he began international sea tours, sailing to places like France, Italy and Australia.
“For me, [the military] gave me a greater sense of community and appreciation for what we have here,” he said. “When you go do tours in different countries, and see how these people live, and the lack of facilities that we have on a daily basis, it’s hard to even fathom unless you’ve seen it.”
The tours abroad were tough on Bush and his family. A self-proclaimed “mama’s boy,” Bush made a point to return to Kansas whenever he could, and eventually lived in Missouri for three years as a recruiter for the Navy. However, Bush was soon at sea again due to the second Gulf War.
“I got to experience some good leadership roles [on that ship,]” he said. “This type of a ship was a smaller ship. In the first two ships I was on, we had maybe 1,000 or 1,500 people on them. This one had maybe 200 people, so it was a real close-knit community.”
That tour was Bush’s last sea tour. After a period of shore tour in Washington, during which he was responsible for overseeing ship maintenance, he was raised to the rank of Senior Chief. It was at this point that Bush began to think about retirement—and found himself in the middle of another successful career.
“One of my friends who I had served in the Navy with called me up and was trying to get me to start a business with him,” he said. “It was a spur of the moment decision. I decided, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So two days after I retired, I went and bought a drill and backhoe, and went to work.”
Bush worked for seven years in the LMB Property Group, an underground utility and construction service based in Springfield, Mo. It was a successful career—the company installed a fair amount of the Google Fiber in Kansas City, as well as miles of cable for AT&T.
“The downside [of the success] is that it caused me to get a divorce,” Bush said. “I was married to my career instead of my family. I just worked all the time.”
About a year after the divorce in 2010, however, Bush began dating his ex-wife, Dana Bush, again—the reason he would eventually retire from his career. Three months ago, Dana was made Dean of Nursing at Rasmussen College, responsible for both the Topeka and Overland Park campuses. Lawrence was conveniently located halfway between, so that became Dana’s new home—forcing Roger to make a decision: career or love.
“I decided, you know, life is too short,” Roger said. “Four and a half hours of commute was too much on the weekends, and my partner agreed to buy my part of the business out,” he said. “So I just decided I was going to go back to school, and try to figure out, for the first time in my life, what I wanted to do.”
Like many first-year students, Roger is still deciding on a major. At this point, he is interested in pursuing geology or environmental studies. A great deal of this interest comes from his past experiences.
“I’m a big proponent of the environment,” he said. “When I first joined the Navy, I just couldn’t believe that everybody just threw trash overboard into the ocean. When you go to the Philippines or someplace like that, there’s just a band of trash surrounding the coastline—it’s terrible. Mainly, I want to do something like be a national park ranger or soil conservationist—do something outside. I don’t want a desk job.”
However, at the moment, Roger is focusing on the present. After 30 years out of school, readjusting to course loads and the difficulty of schooling is his top priority. Most difficult at the moment? Algebra.
“It was never required in high school,” he said. “So I spend all day Saturday and Sunday doing algebra. Yesterday, I spent six hours on Skype with my son, because he’s a math major, while he was teaching me algebra.”
Not all of Roger’s learnings come from conventional classes. In addition to learning new updated technology systems, Roger said he gains a different perspective from his younger classmates.
“I learn a lot from [younger students.] Yik Yak, for one,” he said. “I have to go home and look stuff up sometimes, when I hear you guys talking. I’ve always been around a younger crowds in the Navy, but it’s different here. Better educated. A whole different social aspect.”
Photos by: George Mullinix/KANSAN