The UW-Green Bay and larger community joined forces Monday (Nov. 11) to pay tribute to military service members past and present.
Close to 100 people attended the annual Chancellor’s Veteran Reception, a heartfelt and solemn yet celebratory event that honors campus and community vets. Marine veteran and UW-Green Bay Chancellor’s Council of Trustees Chairman Lou LeCalsey offered special remarks at the event, standing in this year for UW-Green Bay Chancellor Tom Harden.
“I know that Veterans Day is meant to recognize all who have served,” LeCalsey said, “and Memorial Day is meant to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. And yet there’s still a poignancy in Veterans Day.”
LeCalsey expressed a “special personal pride” in being part of UW-Green Bay’s celebration of veterans, and told the student service members present that their military experience and the characteristics it fosters will give them an edge after they leave the University. He took time to honor WWII Marine veteran Claude Bohn, the most senior vet present at the reception — and to lead event attendees in singing “Happy Birthday” to Bohn, who’d turned 89 the day before.
The event was emceed by UW-Green Bay Veteran Services Adviser Elaina Koltz, a U.S. Army veteran who received a 2013 UW-Green Bay Founders Association Award for her work with student vets. UW-Green Bay recently was named a “military friendly school,” an honor bestowed upon just 15 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, for the fifth consecutive year. UW-Green Bay has 350 individuals receiving veteran benefits, including 242 veterans and service members, as well as dependents. That number is expected to increase to more than 400 by early next year, Koltz said.
In introducing student veterans, each of whom received a certificate of appreciation, Koltz noted that some have been deployed — and had their educations interrupted — as many as three times. And yet the students and alumni present — two of whom spoke about their success stories — have persevered, Koltz said.
Fernando Chavarria, a 2012 UW-Green Bay Communication grad and a married father of two, now works at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, Mich., advocating for veterans as a peer support specialist. But as he told reception attendees, a 2005 deployment to Iraq took its toll, leading Chavarria to “become a heavy drinker” who was “quick to fight” upon his return. His wake-up call came in the form of a car accident — his second DUI — that left him in the hospital and caused him to reexamine his life and his relationships. Chavarria cleaned up, finished school and is doing something he loves.
“Success does not come without scars — it’s the price we pay to stand here today,” he told the audience. “There is no greater support to a veteran than that of another veteran.”
For December 2011 UW-Green Bay graduate Sandra Meyer, supporting fellow veterans also has become a way of life. A U.S. Army Reservist who deployed to Iraq in 2007, Meyer served as a mental health specialist — learning a lot about leadership, and about herself, along the way. She now works as a veterans employment specialist at the Center for Veterans Issues, and told attendees their service will be of value in navigating their career path.
“The right employer,” Meyer said, “will see you for the talented veteran that you are.”
To help those talented veterans finance their education, UW-Green Bay offers three scholarships just for vets. Koltz introduced the most recent recipients of the Joel Halverson, John Dederich and Craig and Karen Dickman veterans scholarships, telling the story of each award and personally welcoming the Dickmans, who were in attendance.
Toward the end of the reception, Koltz unveiled a surprise for the student veterans present — and especially Vets 4 Vets Club president Ken Corry. In large part because of Corry’s advocacy and drive, UW-Green Bay will open a Military and Veteran Support Center on campus, likely in spring 2014. The room will be located in MAC Hall.
The Chancellor’s Veteran Reception kicked off an entire week of UW-Green Bay events designed to honor and provide information and services for campus and community veterans (more information is available here).
Monday’s event concluded solemnly, reverently, with the playing of “Taps.”