Youth Profile in Action

When I think about my college experience, I think of the lasting friendships I have made with student veterans and the passion I have discovered for working with the military community. I help veterans transition from combat to campus through service and by being a friend. 

Learning about the military community can, at times, be frustrating. Military culture is a world unto itself; it’s a world we civilians do not always understand. You have to adjust to being called “ma’am,” to always standing on the service member’s left side so their right arm is free to salute, to laughing at yourself when you misuse an acronym or two — and to knowing that your friend may be called to war on short notice. Luckily, the military also provides an instant community, a support system, a family.

I’ve discovered that military families serve, too. A parent left at home can suddenly become a short-term single parent, and the whole family worries about the other parent’s safety. The parent at home makes tough choices. It may be hard to know how much to tell young children. It’s difficult to explain that their mother or father is half a world away fighting for the abstract, yet very real, idea of freedom. A five year old may not know where Afghanistan is and they can’t fully grasp the reality of war, but they understand that they love and miss their mom or dad.

Because they overcome these challenges, our men and women in uniform and their families are some of the strongest and most caring individuals I have ever met. Still, like all of us, they could use an extra helping hand from time to time. That’s why I’ve dedicated my time in college to meeting the needs of American University’s (AU) military community.

The student veterans and service members at AU have taught me so much and shattered any stereotype I could have had about who a soldier is. They are a diverse, motivated, caring, intelligent and fun group. Perhaps the most surprising and heartwarming custom I have witnessed among veterans is the way they embrace each other, and this is rooted in their genuine appreciation for life. These are grown men, some of whom are self-described as “macho,” but they are never afraid to sincerely hug another person. They have witnessed firsthand how fragile and fleeting life can be. Because of that, they embrace each other with an earnest love that many grownups never learn to acknowledge or appreciate.

It is my honor to be able to serve and advocate for them as AU’s Director of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and Communications Chair for the student organization AU Vets. We support AU’s military community through on-campus outreach and advocacy. We work with Student Government and the administration to fundraise, host events, and make AU more military-friendly.

AU Vets brings community and camaraderie into the civilian world and onto our college campus. Through social events, we provide a support system for AU’s military community while also educating civilian students, faculty and staff about both the struggles and rewards of the military world. We have hosted events and panel discussions, raised money for charity, advocated for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) recognition on campus, and held service projects.

DMA and AU Vets are also working together on bigger goals that will make AU a university where veterans are not only welcomed but supported and seen as an asset to the student body. We are proposing an on-campus Veteran Resource Center, which would provide our military community with a space that is theirs—a space that can connect them to all of the great resources AU has to offer. The Veteran Resource Center would help our veterans feel at home on-campus and in the civilian world.

Hosting events and communicating with others on-campus is easier now than ever before. We can share interesting internet links and event information instantly through social media sites. For example, we were able to utilize social media to mobilize students, fraternities, and service groups to help DMA and AU Vets’ care package drive for AU’s 9/11 Day of Service. It started as a simple idea: mail soldiers a taste of home. This included toiletries, snacks, DVDs, candy—anything that seemed useful or fun. Connecting with others and getting the word out on Facebook and Twitter made this project better and more successful than any one of us could have achieved on our own. By working together, we were able to fill over a dozen large boxes with items for the troops in Afghanistan.

Our military students have all served and sacrificed. It is time for us to be there for them. It is time to help them with all the issues that come with being not just a college student but also a member of the military. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. When we neglect their needs, we are failing the very people who make this nation great.