Laurel Ridge science instructor Jerome “Butch” Austin has lived a life of service – both in the classroom and on the battlefield.
Austin, who was the 2014 Laurel Ridge Professor of the Year, has been with the college since 2002. He teaches anatomy and physiology at the Fauquier Campus.
He didn’t set out to become a teacher, but says that is the path that opened up before him.
While earning his bachelor’s degree in naturalist biology from Appalachian State University, Austin joined the North Carolina National Guard and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He remained in the guard until the mid-1990s when he was on placed on individual ready reserve.
Austin went on to earn a master’s degree in adult education from Tusculum University, and has 36 graduate hours in biology. He taught at a community college in Tennessee before moving to Virginia.
The events of Sept. 11 spurred Austin to return military service, helping a unit that had seen most of its members deployed. Austin was asked to teach ROTC classes at George Mason University. Many of those he was teaching were preparing for deployment.
“Something didn’t seem right to me,” Austin says.
This niggling led him to search for a unit that would allow him to go on deployment, and he ended up serving with a civil affairs unit out of Ft. Meade, Md.
The unit deployed to Afghanistan in 2005-2006 on a hearts-and-minds-focused mission, building schools and clinics and digging wells.
The Laurel Ridge community rallied behind Austin, doing a shoe drive so Austin and his fellow soldiers could hand them out to Afghan citizens who greatly needed them, furthering the mission to win hearts and minds. He recalled girls being threatened by the Taliban for coming to schools built by the soldiers.
Austin had a second deployment several years later, this time to Iraq.
He says his military background bring an extra layer to his teaching.
“I think my military experience brings a big-picture perspective on the world and how many opportunities we have that sometimes students don’t understand,” Austin says. “I can sometimes relate experiences where people would trade anything to have the opportunities our students have.”
Once again, this year’s Veterans Day ceremony on the Fauquier Campus featured a talk by Austin.
“Having a life of trying to serve others is the biggest reward that you can have,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not always easy, but at the end of the day, if you have seen that you’ve made a difference in this life, then it’s worth it.”