Tony Dill found his calling in the Army, and his next chapter at the Mike Ilitch School of Business
When Tony Dill left college after his freshman year to join the army, he didn’t expect to find a lifelong career.
“My sister and I were in the same school in Ohio, and we came from a two-parent family, but college was just too costly,” says Dill. “My initial plan was to join the army for three years, sign up for the G.I. Bill/College Fund and go right back and finish school. Then of course three years turned into over twenty-four.”
After his career in the army, Dill has returned to finish what he started at the Mike Ilitch School of Business, where he is currently a senior in the management program.
Dill found his calling as a member of the United States Army. He was active in his high school’s ROTC program, which paved his path to success in his military career.
“I enjoyed it, I enjoyed making friends and I progressed in rank fast,” Dill recalls. “I enlisted in March of 1988 and in July of 1990 I was promoted to Sergeant. I was travelling and made lifelong friends from when I first enlisted in basic training.”
Dill eventually became a Master Sergeant, training in air defense artillery specializing in using Stinger Missiles for air defense. As he progressed through training, Dill decided he needed to make a change.
“I realized that I didn’t really have any transferable skills that would relate to the outside,” Dill explains. “Nobody is going to hire me to shoot planes out of the sky, that’s for sure. I switched over to transportation management, and in that field, I was able to work in various functions within the transportation realm including working on the airfield moving cargo and personnel.”
This ended up being the perfect fit for Dill, who spent the rest of his army career in this field, traveling around the world while transporting freight. After his retirement from the Army in December of 2012, Dill wasn’t ready to give it up.
“After about two years of sitting in one spot, I got that itch to travel, which is how I went back to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor two times,” says Dill. “It was a shock. I wasn’t used to the different level of respect being out of uniform. However, as a civilian I had an opportunity to mold some of the younger soldiers I was working with. A lot of them found out I was a Master Sergeant and realized I had something more to offer.”
After working through his government contracts, Dill decided it was time to finish his degree when his spouse enrolled at Wayne State’s School of Social Work. He had 117 credit hours to his name from taking classes while enlisted, and found his transition to Wayne State smoother than expected.
“They make it so easy for veterans at Wayne,” says Dill. “The registration process, everything...The vet success program, they check on you throughout the semester, make sure you transitioned well, how your emotional state is, so it’s been a great help.”
Wayne State University, and the Mike Ilitch School of Business together offer programs that contribute greatly to veteran success, says Ilitch School Dean Virginia Kleist.
“We find that our veteran students tend to be very successful as students here at Ilitch. Supporting undergraduate and graduate student veterans is absolutely a priority, and a part of our mission and values. Service members need to know that after serving our country they can return home with a path in place for them to continue their education, and secure employment post-service,” says Kleist. “Service members don’t even need to complete their service before beginning their education. The Ilitch School offers degree programs at all levels completely online, so even active-duty members can complete courses wherever the call of duty takes them.”
Further strategies to support veteran students are offered through the Colonel Gregory Gadson Office of Military and Veterans Academic Excellence. William Keilman, Director of the Veteran Student Support Services, says that these supports are valued by the community of student-veterans at Wayne State.
“All of our students are always eager to receive our outreach,” says Keilman. “Through the Peer Advisor for Veteran Education (PAVE) program, we do monthly calls and follow up emails, so we know how they’re doing, what their experiences are, and finding out how they are doing mentally and physically is important to us.”
Beyond check ins, this office provides a lounge for veteran students to relax, or work on assignments with an attached computer lab. They hold career readiness workshops, summer programs and academic success training programs to help vets stay on track. They even loan laptops to veterans unable to access their own technology.
Keilman, along with the majority of the staff at the Veteran Success Center, also served in the armed forces. He says there’s something different about veterans helping veterans that students really connect with, and which helps ensure their success.
“Students have a connection with people that have shared their experiences,” explains Keilman. “The students who frequent our office usually come up here for camaraderie, that’s one of the reasons we have the lounge, and why we host barbecues. It’s to bring veterans together so they don’t feel so isolated on campus.”
These programs have a clear effect, with veteran students boasting a 90% persistence rate, moving to the next grade level at a higher rate than non-veteran students. Dill is already in his senior year and has a clear path forward after he matriculates.
“I’m a transportation management coordinator right now, so if a soldier gets orders that assign them to a different location, I am responsible for coordinating flights, that their house is packed up and moved, car gets shipped, their pets get shipped,” explains Dill. “I started a business in January of 2022 with my brother in service, to serve as a transportation broker with the government, and coordinating with trucking companies to move military freight.”
To avoid the overhead involved in purchasing trucking equipment and hiring truckers to move the equipment, Dill facilitates the connections between private shipping entities and the army. He says this is the perfect opportunity for him to transition into retirement.
“I am a lover of life, I just enjoy what life has to offer. I’ve had a wonderful life, a wonderful military career, and I’m going to have a wonderful post career,” says Dill.
As for other students who want to find themselves as satisfied with their careers and post careers as Dill is, he says to stay curious.
“If you’re not going about your day to day trying to learn something new every day, then you’re wrong,” says Dill. “Talk to folks, everybody has something to offer, and you won’t know unless you communicate with people.”
-Patrick Bernas, Information Officer III