The rapidly growing number of military veterans at Arizona State University can now get academic and social support at a center named after the late Pat Tillman, the NFL star turned Army Ranger.

The center opened Tuesday and gives veterans and their dependents a place to gather and to get support in the sometimes difficult transition from military life to academic life. The center will help ASU attract students from other states and boost their odds of success once they're enrolled, said David Lucier, president of the Arizona Veterans Foundation.

"This is part of the overall strategy to make ASU the Number One veterans-supportive university in the nation," Lucier said.

Veterans often need social support when they leave the military for the less-structured civilian world, Lucier said.

"They might as well be stepping onto the planet Mars," Lucier said. "The dress is different. The culture is different. Everything is different."

MBA student and veteran Chris Ohanian said it can be difficult for veterans to start college. He served five years in the Army, including a tour in Afghanistan. Some vets won't talk to family or friends about some of their experiences. Ohanian said they only feel comfortable talking through issues with other veterans, and the Tillman center should help with that by creating a gathering place.

Ohanian had last been in school in the late 1990s and said students from that era could struggle with all the technology that's part of academic life.

"The last time I went to school, it was all pens and paper," he said. "All these things that weren't relevant when you last went to school are now important."

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center fills 3,300 feet of basement space in the Memorial Union of the Tempe campus. A staff of 15 can help students with their GI Bill benefits, academic guidance and readjustment counseling, said Christian Rauschenbach, the veteran services program manager.

Many services were provided before, but this is the first gathering point for vets. The center is one of eight chosen by the Veterans Administration for a pilot program to improve veteran education and employment goals.

ASU had 1,778 vets and dependents enrolled as of the spring semester, an 86 percent increase in two years. Another wave of vets could enroll as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down and veterans take advantage of an improved GI Bill. Vets at ASU have tuition and fees paid for, up to $1,000 a year for books and a housing stipend.

The center incorporated Tillman's name because it was such a good fit, Lucier said.

"As soon as Pat's name came up, that was it," he said "That was the end of the conversation."

Tillman played football for the Sun Devils from 1994 to 1997 and then with the Arizona Cardinals for three years. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tillman turned town a three-year, $3.6 million contract to join the Army Rangers. He was killed by friendly fire in 2004 in Afghanistan.

Ohanian, who is from Dallas, said Tillman is revered far beyond Arizona.

"When I'm in Texas or in Georga and say I go to ASU, the first thing that pops into people's heads is Pat Tillman," Ohanian said.

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