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A Word on Veterans

Stop, Look, Listen

“STOP, LOOK, LISTEN.” This is advice given to people to be cautious when crossing a street. It is also a reminder to be careful when approaching a possible sensitive situation. When speaking with those who may have served overseas in the Middle East, stop, look, and listen may be the best way for us to approach such a fragile subject.

The events occurring in Afghanistan the past weeks are jarring. It is a situation affecting everyone. None more so than for those persons who spent time in that country in service to the United States. These brave individuals could be affected viscerally:  mentally, emotionally, and personally. How we broach such a subject is a matter of tact, sensitivity, and care.

STOP. If we decide to ask a veteran how they are feeling during this time, then stop. Take the time to halt and ask. Remember this is something which is personal, and inquiring about it takes a moment.

LOOK. Whether literally, or figuratively, look at the individual. Make a connection that is more than a passing glance. Let them know we care about them and what they are going through during this time.

LISTEN. Finally, listen. We have taken the step to engage. It is now our turn to listen. Listening can be hard, especially if we are thinking of a retort. Sometimes, it is just enough to listen without the onus of coming up with a solution, or trying to find something to say in response, or reaching a conclusion. Listen without judgement.

The Veterans Administration has provided information on what is available to veterans during this time:

Veterans from all eras are reacting to the events in Afghanistan, such as the U.S withdrawal and the takeover by the Taliban. Veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service. It’s normal to feel this way. Talk with your friends and families, reach out to battle buddies, connect with a peer-to-peer network, or sign up for mental health services. Scroll down for a list common reactions and coping advice.

Resources available right now

  • Veterans Crisis Line – If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255, then PRESS 1 or visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
  • For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7 regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care.
  • Vet Centers – Discuss how you feel with other Veterans in these community-based counseling centers. 70% of Vet Center staff are Veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.
  • MakeTheConnection.net – information, resources, and Veteran to Veteran videos for challenging life events and experiences with mental health issues.
  • VA Women Veterans Call Center – Call or text 1-855-829-6636 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 6:30PM ET)
  • VA Caregiver Support Line – Call 1-855-260-3274 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 5PM ET)

Just being there for someone may be enough for anyone to get through a tough situation. Our ability to make ourselves available to another person is powerful and a statement of how much we care. All of us are in this together. It is important for others to know that they are not alone.

 

A Word on Veterans

Loss

It has been a while since my last post. Even though I’ve had some time to think about this subject, I’m not sure how to write this one because it feels so personal. So I will just write…

Why is it so hard when someone takes their own life? I do not know. I truly don’t. I was told earlier this year that a student I once had the privilege of working with killed himself. Why? I may never know.

He was a veteran. Maybe that’s why. Sometimes we take it hard when it is one of our own.

He was in his thirties. His thirties. He was so young. So many more years to go.

He was one of my students. I take a personal interest.

I had never before felt such visceral anguish… the day I found out, that night, I literally fell to my kitchen floor and cried.

I don’t know what to say, except this: he was a bright young man. He had a good heart and a sweet spirit. Whenever I asked him he was always ready to lend a hand. He was a veteran and he served his country. He will be missed.

A Word on Veterans

Called to Serve

This is the first blog post of the New Year and, as I am sure many posts around the internet are doing, I will be reflecting on the previous year.

Yes, the year 2020 was for the most part a disaster. However, I do not wish to focus on the negative but would prefer to bring to light something that should be acknowledged – the service of our students in the National Guard who were called to action during Minnesota’s trying times.

The month of May last year was truly horrible, and it brought the state and country to its knees. Reactions brought about destruction. Then the governor called up the National Guard. Many of St. Thomas’s students were called and some had to leave school to fulfill military obligations. These students were called to help the state and its citizens. They were called to give aid to a situation which needed it. They answered the call, they served, and they did so with the quiet dignity indicative of their commitment to helping their community, the state, and the country.

Covid-19 hit Minnesota. Numbers climbed and help was needed. Again, the National Guard was called upon to provide assistance. Student at St. Thomas, again, answered their obligation, and were required to halt their studies in order to do so. They were placed in an unfamiliar situation to assist medical workers in trying to combat the pandemic. These St. Thomas students contributed to making sure the state can meet the challenge presented by the virus.

I am thankful to these students. I am thankful that they chose to serve and, when called to action, they did so in a way which makes us proud – proud that they are Minnesota National Guardsmen, and proud that they are Tommies. Our Tommies. Thank you.

A Word on Veterans

Pay it Forward

The words, “The Common Good,” permeates everything in the University of St Thomas universe. However, these are not just words. I see them come into being in our students on a daily basis. It is something to behold. One such moment consistently comes to mind when I think about the common good and giving to others.

Every November we begin collecting donations for our annual Care Package drive; we send Care Packages to our students deployed overseas. (It’s not just our own military who benefit from these packages, but it becomes an international event as well. Other countries are not always as generous as we are here in the United States, so when a service member receives a care package, they share their wares with other countries. This is generosity and a bit of comfort on an international scale.) The generosity of our university for this event is overwhelming. But it goes further than that.

We had a student who deployed and they received one of our care packages for Christmas. The package was such that there was enough for them to share with their unit.  Every time someone would enter the office, that person could reach in and grab candy, crackers, whatever. Our student was able to share during the holiday season so that others could have a small bit of comfort. Yet it goes a little further than that.

This particular student gathered some of what they had, made additional care packages while over there, and then sent those packages to other service members in the area who did not receive anything at all for Christmas.

The generosity kept going –  Tommies helping Tommies helping others – giving service to others – caring for someone else and wanting them to feel compassion. If this is not a small step of service towards “The Common Good” I do not know what is?

 

A Word on Veterans

Students

I wake up every morning understanding I am in an enviable position. I have the honor of serving a group of students who are serving, or have served, in the military. These individuals possess something remarkable, and that is a belief in being a part of something greater than themselves.

People join the military for different reasons: familial tradition, education opportunities, travel, patriotism. No matter the reason, there comes a point where each one of them embraces the concept of service:  service to country and service to each other.

This dedication to the whole, as opposed to the parts, is inspirational. The ability to work with each other to accomplish a goal, in spite of any differences that may arise, is remarkable. I have repeatedly seen these students, and students like them, work together to achieve an objective, and we are better for it.

I once asked my father, a Marine who served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, if he fought for something bigger than himself. He then told me this:

“One evening my niece, Janice, walked up to me, looked up at the sky, and asked, ‘Can I have that star?’ I wanted to fight for a country where a little girl has the freedom to ask for something and she can grow up and maybe one day get it.”

We all do things for different reasons. And we are fortunate that we live in a country where, for the most part, we are free to pursue our dreams. We should be thankful to those who dedicate themselves to something greater than themselves.

But I assure you we should be proud of them as well. Proud that our friends, family, and loved ones who have chosen this path, for whatever reason, have chosen it. And to them I say, not just today but every single day, thank you.

A Word on Veterans

Veterans Day

On this day, our blog goes live. I feel it is appropriate that it should be today. On this Veterans Day, I sit reflecting on previous years, and feeling thankful for what we have.

I am thankful I work at an institution that supports its military-connected students from the top down. The backing coming from the President’s office and extending down to administration, faculty and staff towards the success of this population is inspiring and encouraging.

I am thankful that the effort to create a Veterans Resource Center was started by student veterans. A group of these students, along with support from faculty and staff, went to the President of the University and asked for consideration. Just a few short months later, Veterans Services and the Veterans Resource Center were created and we celebrate their 3rd year anniversaries this week.

I am thankful that the efforts of this university towards supporting its military-connected students is recognized on a national scale. The hard work and dedication of those who work here is something remarkable and uplifting to behold. I have the privilege of working with individuals who work tirelessly for the care and success of those in their charge.

I am thankful for those who support us as benefactors. We benefit from having individuals who care deeply for the success of students and show this support to us consistently and caringly. We are ever increasing services and opportunities for our veterans and we would not be able to do these things without their support.

Most of all I am thankful for those military and veteran students and their families who attend this university. These individuals serve and have served this country and now entrust us for help in their education and success. They deserve any help we are able to afford. It is our responsibility to aid them in the best way we can. I am thankful for these students and I am thankful for colleagues and a university that will do just that.

Thank you.