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Armed Forces Day 2012: Opening Lines of Communication With Veteran Students

While the turnout wasn’t what they expected, the Marion Technical College Veterans Task Force’s Armed Forces Day event allowed for a lot of personal discussion and learning from both veterans and the Task Force themselves. Photo by RDECOM.

As Marion Technical College (MTC) has worked to increase its presence in the veteran community, we sailed into uncharted territory. We had taken many steps to improve the college’s reputation in the community and were successful in that endeavor going from approximately thirty-eight veterans on campus to 73 veterans in just two years. On May 19 we hoped to thank veterans for their service and have an armed forces recruitment event.

The number one challenge was finances. The Veterans Task Force is an adjunct committee to the Enrollment Management Team; consequently, it doesn’t have a budget. Mike Chapman—an admissions counselor and Task Force member at MTC—accepted the task of finding money for this event. Mike zealously set about his task. When he had finished he had accumulated nearly fifteen hundred dollars in cash; an iPad; gift baskets; gift certificates for dinners, bowling, roller skating, and flowers; spaghetti dinners and bottles of water for the event; a Yeugling armed forces picture; and T-shirts, sweatshirts, key chains, and pens. The diversity of community supporters was outstanding. It included home based businesses and local companies, franchisees, utilities companies, extended care facilities, service organizations, distributorships, banks, and international corporations.

With financing in hand, we set about recruiting participants. Invitations were sent to American Legion, AMVET, Veteran of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veteran posts. This was followed on some occasions with personal visits. County Veteran Service Counselors received invitations. MTC students and faculty were encouraged to attend and bring a friend. Notices were also sent to the National Guard and Reserve organizations in surrounding communities. Newspapers and radio stations picked up the word.

I also extended personal invitations whenever possible. For example, a gentleman wearing a SPECWAR hat told me about his service as a SEAL and was invited. On another occasion, a man wearing a Navy hat was invited, and I discovered that he was a plank owner (a member of the commissioning crew) on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (CV-63). I also invited a sailor who served on the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-8) during World War II. There was also a disabled veteran who was military police at Danang during Vietnam.

We assembled teams for formal presentations. One would concern the admission process. The VA Certifying Official would discuss VA benefits and the GI Bill. I would talk about getting credit for military training and experience through AARTS and SMARTS, the military transcript services which are reviewed by the American Council on Education. We wanted to have a flag raising with an honor guard from a local Air National Guard Unit, the pledge of alliance, and some words of thanks for our veterans. We would conclude with the spaghetti dinner and award door prizes.

We were ready; the day arrived. I anticipated a large turnout. After all who can turn down a free lunch?

From a numbers perspective it was disappointing, but from a learning point of view it was invaluable. The veterans who attended covered everything from Vietnam to someone who was going to report to boot camp in 27 days.

We explained what Marion Technical College could do for them and talked about specific programs. We advised the soldier headed for boot camp to sign up for ConAP, the concurrent application program between the Army and various colleges. We distributed the door prizes and enjoyed a spaghetti lunch. The entire process became much more informal than it was originally designed.  We received suggestions about pairing our event with a specific veteran post and have already begun building bridges with the Cardington American Legion Post. We heard that a celebration of thanksgiving was much more valuable than organized presentations. We also needed to firm up our plans before publishing notices so that locations and times were more adequately noted.

All in all, the program was a success. We sailed into uncharted waters and received some extremely valuable feedback as we continue to look for more ways to spread the word about veteran services at Marion Technical College.

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