When asked why it’s important for the university to honor its student veterans, Graduate Employee Veterans Program Coordinator Samantha Roberts paused to carefully craft her response.
She explained a part of appreciating veterans is choosing the right words when describing veterans since they are often associated with being broken and people fail to see how strong they are because most of the time civilians can’t relate to a veteran’s past experience.
“They have many strengths they can bring back to campus that go unrecognized,” Roberts said.
These unique strengths are a result of the veterans’ different experiences in the service.
Veterans Appreciation Week highlighted the communication gap between veteran students and the civilian community which comes from civilians not recognizing the strength and experience behind the word, veteran.
Helping bridge the divide between veterans and non-veterans is Zachary Flores, veterans and family student association meeting coordinator. He has been working on an event project that is separate from Veterans Appreciation Week that will provide a platform for veterans to share their experience of their time in the service and of reintegrating into society with non-veteran attendees.
Instead of appreciating veterans on campus for one week in November, Flores’ research will uphold as a monthly gathering that is aimed at giving veterans space to freely connect with civilians and thus give civilians insight on what it means to be a veteran.
Roberts advised Flores on this project and she said this conversation will open up what it means to be a veteran and what the life of a veteran looks like. While people may verbally thank veterans, most don’t know what appreciation looks like, Roberts said. Showing appreciation is different to every veteran, based on their personal experience.
Michael Thomas, a public administration graduate student, and Air Force veteran, explained at the closing ceremony of Veteran’s Appreciation Week here the paralleling life experience between veteran students and non-veteran students—referencing veterans who spent their college years fighting in Vietnam while civilians spent their college years studying. This parallel makes it difficult for those veterans to relate to non-veterans when reintegrating into society.
Thomas explained that many veterans will understate their service because it can be difficult for veterans to articulate their experience in terms that a civilian could relate to or understand. Sometimes veterans don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences because of the “inflammatory comments and broad generalizations” about the U.S. Military.
In some cases, formal recognition and appreciation from the university do not matter to student veterans. Studying inside the Student Veterans Center was former Marines Cpl. Zach Goodenough.
“None of us in here look for thanks from the school or university,” Goodenough said.
Goodenough was in the SVC working on his homework for his pre-business major when he explained how being from Michigan influenced his decision to join the U.S. Marines.
“Military service was a duty… See what you’re made of kind of thing,” Goodenough said.
Veterans from all backgrounds currently in Lane County, some having dedicated 30 years to the Air Force, shared with Flores their experiences in the service, why they chose to serve, and their reintegration into society for his senior project.
Flores’ goal is to negate the misconceptions about the veteran identity and teach non-veterans how to interact with veterans. Questions such as, “How many people have you killed?” are unacceptable.
“It’s not their fault… they don’t know a lot of veterans,” Flores said with a shrug.
Roberts advised Flores on his project and explained there are a lot of variables in a veteran’s experience which makes bringing the wall down—between veterans and non-veterans—much harder.