Honoring Our Patriots Event (HOPE)

This week, I wanted to cover a few ways that people across the nation are paying their respects to those who serve. There are, of course, the traditional Veterans Day Parade, the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and visits to monuments such as Pearl Harbor. But there are other, perhaps less well known methods people and organizations are using to honor the service of current and former military members and I wanted to cover a few of those today, starting with one that’s close to my heart.

If you have read a few of my posts, you may have noticed that I’ve referenced my students a few times. Since I left the college in July, they are technically my former students but, as I tend to be a bit possessive about the people I am responsible for, I can’t quite think of them that way yet. In any case, these students are my inspiration for starting this blog. In fact, it sprang out of e-mails I used to send them about programs and opportunities available for veterans and their dependents.

As a VA School Certifying Official, this was technically (there’s that word again) outside my required duties – I was really there to provide them academic advising (my primary job for the college) and help them through the process of using their VA education benefits (my “additional duty” as far as the college was concerned). It didn’t take me long to realize that these students, my students, needed more than that. Many were struggling with unemployment, health issues, homelessness and other issues related to transitioning off of active duty. They were also struggling with their new identity as a student and, for many, a feeling of complete isolation from their student peers and their professors. To help bridge this gap, I created the Honoring Our Patriots Event or HOPE.

HOPE was designed with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to create an opportunity to say thank you to the student veterans for their service. Second, I wanted the event to open a dialogue between veterans and non-veterans (students and staff). It wasn’t enough to just say “Thank you for your service.” We needed to go further than that. We needed to get to understanding and acceptance and there wasn’t yet a venue for that to happen. HOPE, then, was designed around the idea of allowing non-vets a small window into the life of a military member in a way that would be embraced by college students and veterans alike.

We played jodies over the loudspeaker, dished up samples of MREs (this sparked quite a discussion about the best and worst ones), laid out a cot and ruck for people to look at, held a push up contest on the quad, and, perhaps the most well-received activity, allowed the students to try on flak vests and Kevlar lent to us by a local military surplus store. We also invited local veterans organizations, such as the local veterans employment resources, county veterans services organizations, OEF/OIF outreach, VA homelessness representative, and others. Additionally, we asked students and staff who had served to submit photos of themselves in uniform and we created a display in the campus library with photos and short bios about those photos and what those students and staff were doing now. This year, HOPE was expanded by the fabulous Miss Emily Mahoney (stop back by Saturday to read my interview with Emily’s father, a WWII navigator and former POW), and included a student veteran round table with administration and a panel of veterans – one WWII, one Korea, and one Vietnam.

With colleges seeing the highest influx of student veterans since the end of WWII, these kinds of events are becoming both more prevalent and more necessary. Some schools host key note speakers, others host ceremonies at memorials for alumni killed in service. Others, such as Syracuse University, held a Warrior (formation) Run on campus. While the University of Texas used its marching band to create a submersible submarine and moving tank, among other military imagery.

If you’re a student veteran or dependent, how did your college/university pay their respects this year? If they didn’t have a way to honor veterans, what type of event would you like to see on your campus?

© 2013, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.

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