Heroes Among Us

04/08/2016 14:37

 

Angela Casler
Co-Advisor, SVO with Larry Langwell, Veteran's Affairs Office

We at Chico State are Hosting

The First Regional Student Veteran Conference

Many of our COB faculty donated to help send the Chico State Student Veteran Organization's delegates to the National SVO conference in January 2016 – and other participants were so impressed by Chico State's representatives that they suggested that everyone get together more often. This ongoing conference is the result!

This regional event will focus on achieving multiple objectives:

1) professional development;

2) academic success;

3) improved campus community support systems;

4) transitioning to careers;

5) forming lasting relationships to last a lifetime. 

Please follow this link for full details and share them! The SVO  and Veteran Educational Support Team (VEST) at CSU Chico are hosting to encourage our veteran leaders.  All student veterans from the 23 CSU campuses as well as California Community Colleges have been invited to attend, as have students from colleges in other states.

The Student Veterans of America's Vice President will visit campus as a guest speaker. The keynote address will be given by combat veteran John Crosby, a faculty member in the Department of Political Science here at CSU Chico.

We are honored to show off our campus and the Chico community. If you would like to hang up a small postcard that reads "I support Veterans" please feel free to contact me.

A Personal Connection

Many of our faculty have wondered how I am connected to veterans.

My professional connection to the US military is that I managed the overseas division of an Air Force Credit Union and managed ten banks in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany on US military or NATO bases. There I helped form the Central Bank in Germany to transition to the EU and welcomed the first American Ambassador to the EU in Brussels.

It was a life changing experience to be among the men and women of the US military and NATO. It changed my life tremendously when the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, and later, when war started in Iraq.

I have experienced “super deployments” where whole battalions leave at once and all the families are left with one parent or the kids are sent home to grandparents. I’ve attended too many wakes to honor the fallen, and have been witness to the ongoing suffering of combat service members and their families.

A pivotal moment in my career happened while settling the affairs of a customer who was kidnapped and then later beheaded in Iraq. While taking care of his estate, his mother sobbed on the phone that her son would never rest in peace as his head was never returned to her.

On another day, I was visiting a branch in Hanau, Germany and we heard that a bomb had gone off in a dining hall during lunchtime. It was the base where my employees’ husbands were stationed in Iraq. We all huddled up and prayed together, gave each other hugs, and then quietly tried to concentrate on our jobs until we heard any news of the number of injured or deaths. All the employees were lucky that day. Not one of their spouses were hurt.

My personal connection is that my hubby Jim is an army veteran. I met him in Ansbach, Germany where I worked at Bank of America at the time. We spent many years apart as he was a government contractor at the time. He’s been to Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Going through a deployment with loved ones means your ears are constantly glued to the news to listen for faraway accidents, deaths, attacks, you name it, and you hope that your loved one is nowhere near it. When something happens, you hold your breath until you hear – until you actually know -  that the person you love is safe.

Years later, as is the case with Jim, a veteran might mention that they were under sniper fire, or can’t hear what you are saying because his or her hearing is damaged from mortar fires. While Jim was in Afghanistan, he would lightly mention that he was repairing a helicopter’s sheet metal due to small arms fire. Often he would not tell me too much so that I didn’t have to worry. It’s fair to say nothing really relieves the worry of having loved ones in combat.

What I've Learned Working With Student Veterans

Today I have the enormous responsibility to serve the College of Business to further my service to these people who served our country and who need support. I am truly humbled to help our veteran students and their families achieve successful transitions to college and new careers.

The student veterans need us. Many of them, but not all, have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at the same age as our students in the classroom. Many of them have been deployed more than three times.

Those who have served in war are combat veterans. They have been terrified multiple times, some are physically maimed, some have traumatic brain injury due to being near an explosion and experienced concussions. On average, there are 22 suicides per day in the veteran community due to post traumatic stress disorder.

Last year a student committed suicide here at Chico State.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in combat. Our current SVO President was an explosive ordinance technician who was deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. His job in the military was to locate and disarm roadside bombs or IEDs. These IEDs were the number one cause of injury or death to US military members.

Take one moment, if you can, to imagine what his day would be like; imagine that you have a report of someone planting a bomb. Your job is to go out there, find it, and then explode it before anyone gets hurt.

What haunts a soldier at night is not finding every single bomb that could have saved someone’s life. Not being able to get there first.

What haunts a soldier at night is responding after a bomb does go off and helping with the emergency response and the airlift of the lost or injured.

What wakes a soldier at night is the sound and the shockwave that each explosion made.Those memories never go away. This job takes a tremendous amount of courage. This job takes a very mature person who will not crush under pressure.

This is the type of person you have in your classroom. They’ve survived multiple years of being in danger, while being scared multiple times a day, and are truly happy about it. Now they are pursuing their dreams of higher education and we, all of us, are a part of their journey.

Success Stories

I’ve been lucky to keep in touch with many of our alumni. Here's a look at what our past SVO Presidents are doing today:

Disabled combat marine veteran Damon Maxey graduated with an option in accounting, went to work for Chevron as a financial analyst and has recently moved to Colorado to take his first position as a CFO. 

Combat Marine veteran David Sutherland is most famously known as the marine who pulled down the statue of Sadaam Hussein at the advance on Baghdad. He graduated from the management option, and is now working with the Department of Veteran Affairs in Butte County. 

Army veteran Hannah Williamson manages our local Butte County Veteran Services. She restarted the inactive SVO in 2006, and graduated with an option in accounting.

Army veteran Thomas Bunting works at New Clairvaux Vineyards and graduated with an option in management.

Disabled combat army veteran Wes Shockley graduated with an option in sociology and has been the Veteran Counselor at the Chico Vet Center. He is now accepting a job in Elk Grove and moving this month. He leads a support group of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and has saved many lives here at home. 

Coast Guard veteran Meghan Monokian is currently an entrepreneurship major and will be graduating in December. She hopes to make Butte County her home and open her business here. 

Current SVO President and disabled combat veteran Dylan Peters is a communications major. He saved many lives as an explosive ordinance technician in Iraq. He truly has nerves of steel. 

Final Thoughts

The combat veterans in your classroom have lived through experiences that have forever changed their lives. They are experienced leaders, many have families, many of their spouses and children are also in your classrooms. I want to pass along what they say to me:

- Chico State faculty are very veteran friendly and I feel comfortable here

- I am so lucky to earn my degree in a small town like Chico where I feel safe

- I trust my faculty 

- I am dedicated to my academic success

- I am so lucky to be here to concentrate on my studies

- I feel old!

 

If a veteran self-identifies to you it means he or she trusts you. If you don’t know what to say, a simple "thank you" for serving our country goes a long way. Then please invite him/her to the veteran lounge in Siskiyou Hall, and of course you can send them my way if you notice someone who needs help.

Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder include sleeping in class as they can't sleep at night, sitting at the back of the classroom no matter what, lack of attendance, panic, depression or apathy. We have many fine services here on campus.  I have found the most helpful place is the Chico Veteran’s Center on Cohasset Drive. That’s where I send any veteran who needs emotional assistance.

Of course, not all veterans are wounded mentally and physically. They have been highly skilled and disciplined in their military careers. They will be your most dedicated students who are thirsty for knowledge. They will be leaders in the classroom who will mentor their teammates. Thank you for all that you do to foster their transition to being a "civilian" and creating a safe place for them in your classroom.  

Hopefully this post will help you know how much you mean to them. Every day in your class, you give a veteran a sense of normalcy. Every day they see you, you are filling their thirst for learning. Each day you help them integrate back into society.

For those that have no one to trust right now, they trust you.

Thanks for reading our story!

Angela

Faculty Co-Adviser, Chico State SVO

Veteran Education Support Team

 

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