Veterans Day is one day of the year we really honor veterans, and the variety of ways this is done is amazing.
At ACC, we started the day off with Bill Rose (the husband of ACC student Linda Rose) by retiring the United States flag at the north entrance of the Littleton Campus. We carefully practiced in the Veteran Services Center with the new flag so that the motions would be synchronized. ACC police officers Al Stutman and Kevin Heylin stood by to assist with hoisting the new flag once the old one was retired from service. It had snowed the previous night and the day promised to be blustery, but as we stepped outside, the sun was shining and the wind was calm.
Bill is a Vietnam-era veteran and was so happy to have been asked to help with the flag retirement ceremony. He even put together copies of a flag etiquette brochure to hand out at our Veteran Services Center. Bill flew helicopters while he was deployed and it was evident that he had many stories from his time serving his country. He noted that it had been 20 years since he last retired a flag, but he knew exactly what to do. I felt Bill’s love for his country; visualizing a man who had fought in an unpopular war.
Bill and Linda spent the whole day with ACC veterans on Nov. 11. They helped serve lunch and spoke to everyone who came down for our Veteran Services Center open house. Their love of life was apparent as they happily listened to others and shared parts of their life with us. There is a certain grace found in those who have persevered through difficult times and fought to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Watching Bill and Linda with the younger vets who are still “hard in the battle”, so to speak, made me appreciate even more the hearts of those who serve our country.
We finished the day by taking ACC vets to a gala hosted by Veterans Passport 2 Hope held at the Wings Over the Rockies. ACC police officer Joey Lovett, who also serves as the Director of Public Relations for this organization, generously provided tickets for eight veterans and spouses to attend. The event was very festive with all the planes on display, the silent auction, people in uniform, bagpipers, the color guard, and everyone dressed up in their finery. Bill knew people who actually worked on some of the planes and engaged everyone with his insights on them.
The highlight of the evening was the keynote speaker, Marine Veteran Cpl. Daniel Riley, who was injuried by an IED nearly five years ago. The silence in the room and respect for him as he spoke was profound. Daniel was born in Victoria, Canada, and when he was 12 his dad took a job in Littleton. In Aug. 2010, when Daniel was 22, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and volunteered for a mission to Afghanistan. Every day, there were foot patrols and security operations. On Dec. 16, 2010, as Daniel stepped down and felt the ground give way beneath his foot, he knew what was going to happen next.
As we listened to him, there wasn’t an ounce of bitterness, or even a “why me” tone in his voice. Daniel was truly humble when he said “tonight isn’t about me, it’s about everyone who needs hope after they served their country”. Daniel stressed the importance of the many types of veterans’ programs. He noted that all programs that assist veterans – sports, mentor programs, assistance for families of veterans, or job training – are necessary. More often that not, veterans worry about their families being helped before they worry about themselves.
The vets at the gala were relaxed, enjoying an evening in the company of their own. I’ve been told that it’s tiring to have to explain everything to civilians. The “unspoken” conversations between vets really stood out at this event. Amongst their fellow servicemen and servicewomen, vets can often convey thoughts to one another in the absence of spoken words.
Of course, we can’t begin to imagine the horrors of war, but for the vets, those horrors were a reality. As Daniel spoke, he didn’t even hint at his demons. I have a son who served in battle in 2009, and my family still only knows bits and pieces of his story. Linda confirms that some things just aren’t spoken about. I know vets share their war stories with each other, but not necessarily in the way you and I would talk about being in a traumatic car accident. They’ve been trained to push through the event, to complete the mission because their lives depend upon it. They don’t wallow in self pity, but they do relive their missions over and over again.
New light is being shed regarding how to help veterans live their lives after war time. One of the most powerful methods is vets being with vets. Another rapidly-growing organization called 22 with 22 for the 22 addresses the high level of suicide rates among veterans. These veterans walk 22 km carrying 22 kg in honor of the 22 veterans who take their lives every day.
The ACC Veteran Services Center continues to expands its reach, and we extend an open invitation to our student veterans – as well as veterans in the community – to visit me, Raquel Casavantes (President of the ACC Veterans Club) or Gina Wenzel-Garza (ACC’s VA Certifying Official). Got a few minutes of leisure time? Swing by the Veterans Lounge! Only with the vision and inspiration of those who possess a first-hand understanding of the complexities of veterans’ lives can we continue to comfort and assist those in need. Together, we can be a part of something special.
by Dawn Stratton, Director of the ACC Testing Center and ACC Veterans Club Faculty Advisor