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Arnold School of Public Health


U.S. Navy veteran graduates with exercise science degree, joins doctor of physical therapy program

May 3, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

May exercise science graduate Brooks Herring won’t transition to his department’s doctor of physical therapy program until August, but his long-term plan to create a program for veterans is already well under way. Yet his vision for the future wasn’t always so clear. In fact, he calls this path his “plan D,” but he now knows it was where he was supposed to end up all along.

After growing up in Conway, South Carolina and graduating from Conway High School in 2004, Herring joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a weapons specialist for six years. He was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and deployed to Iraq and Africa. He then deployed to Afghanistan as a civilian with the U.S. Army for a two-year assignment. Upon his return, Herring opened a barbeque restaurant with his father in Columbia called Cock Pit Barbeque.

It was during this time that Herring’s brother, a retired Army veteran, returned to school and began encouraging Herring to do the same. “I thought I was too old and too far past,” he says.

I had deployed and managed to come home in one piece. There are a great number of my brothers and sisters who weren’t so lucky. What can I do to help them?

-Brooks Herring, B.S. in exercise science May graduate

Herring went to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to take some vocational assessments and learned that he “belonged” in the medical field. “I laughed, but the more I thought about it, the more this idea began to form. I want to give more,” he says. “I had deployed and managed to come home in one piece. There are a great number of my brothers and sisters who weren’t so lucky. What can I do to help them?”

That’s when his long-term plans began to form. Herring has already begun the initial stages of developing a program that will provide an intersection of strength training, physical therapy and psychological support for veterans with severe injuries/disabilities (e.g., amputees, traumatic brain injury, burn survivors, post-traumatic stress disorder).

The first step in making this program a reality: enrolling in the Arnold School’s bachelor of science in exercise science program. Over the past three and a half years, Herring has focused his academic pursuits on nutrition, strength training as an avenue of physical therapy, psychological benefits of strength training and fitness, and physiological and psychological benefits of group exercise for individuals with physical disabilities.

He also met two influential mentors, clinical assistant professor and exercise science undergraduate director Raymond Thompson and environmental health sciences research assistant professor Joe Jones. Dr. Thompson has been an outstanding advisor and teacher,” Herrings says. “I was able to serve as Dr. Jones’ U101 peer leader for two years, and he has made quite an impact on my education, my legacy at USC and my life in general.”

I show up to class and study hard, because there are friends of mine who will never get this opportunity; they made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could—so that we all could.

-Brooks Herring, B.S. in exercise science May graduate

Outside his program, the Certified Personal Trainer and National Strength and Conditioning Association member gained practical experience through his position at a local physical fitness company. He also contributed to the tactical program during his practicum at Apex Athletic Performance—experience he is using to inform the development of his future veterans-focused program.

During his undergraduate tenure, Herring has been included in the President’s and/or Dean’s lists every semester and received USC’s Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention & Prevention Hero Award as well as his department's Outstanding Exercise Science Student Award. For two years, Herring served as a University 101 Peer Leader and as vice president for the Student Veterans Association.

Just recently, he was appointed to serve as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for USC Student Government, and he continues to be involved in events (e.g., Project Josiah, Hidden Wounds, Team RWB) that benefit local veterans’ organizations. Meanwhile, he’s stayed focused on his two sons, ages 13 and seven, and regularly carves out time to play music at weddings, bars and fundraisers around Columbia.

Step two will begin in August when Herring begins his doctor of physical therapy degree, a program that receives more than 600 applications for just 30 spots and is ranked among the 16 percent of the country’s 230 physical therapy programs (U.S. News & World Report). Throughout the three and one third year program, he plans to maintain his drive and continue developing his future veterans program.

“I show up to class and study hard, because there are friends of mine who will never get this opportunity; they made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could—so that we all could,” says Herring. “So, I am invested in this education to honor the memory of those who made it possible. If you dedicate yourself to a higher purpose, you’ll be invested; if you’re invested, you will succeed.”