Multiple military branches, united as one

Posted on 14 November 2012 by admin

Veterans Club honors the men and women of the armed services 

By: Alex Kendall
-Managing Editor-

Members of the Veterans Club stand and salute in remembrance of Veterans Day. | PHOTO BY Alex Kendall

As the clock struck 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, five STLCC-Meramec students dressed in full military uniform marched in formation up to the flagpole. Jesse Gunderson, president of the Veterans Club, raised the flag in celebration and observation of Veterans Day.

“You would think after being in the military that you wouldn’t be overwhelmed by certain things. But one thing you don’t really think about is that you focus on your job and just your job.” Gunderson said. “You lose that structure and it is almost overwhelming when you come back to the civilian world and it’s do whatever you want.”

After the flag raising, Gunderson, a former petty officer in the Navy, along with members of the Veterans Club hosted a T-shirt sale that benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that raises awareness and assists injured service members in need.

The Veterans Club, an organization of student veterans, began on the Meramec campus in spring 2010 in an attempt to connect those on campus who have served in the military with one another and the community. One of the club’s sponsors, English professor and retired Army officer Michael Burke, praised those veterans who, “instead of going directly to college or work” after high school decided to join military.

“[Joining the military] is a voluntary act that most people are not willing to do. Most people don’t want to leave home,” Burke said. “Most people don’t want to live on a ship or a barracks or in a tent someplace and do that for some period of time; or get shot at by people they don’t even know; or support people who are getting shot at.”

Burke said that volunteering despite the challenges sets these citizens apart.

“To me that makes them very special folks. It’s that they are willing to do something that other people don’t do or choose not to do,” Burke said.

With diverse backgrounds and experiences, the Veterans Club gives individuals an opportunity to connect with others who have shared the same troubles or accomplishments while also giving back to the community, according to Burke.

“[The club has] two functions. One is to give a place for students like themselves to hangout with other guys like themselves because they are different; they’re older, they’ve had some really unusual experiences, some of them very harrowing experiences. So it’s kind of nice to be able to talk to somebody else who’s had similar experiences who is at least going to understand,” Burke said. “The second function is service projects; really this is the first one we have done.”

With a high population of student veterans at Meramec, having a place on campus for these individuals to receive assistance is crucial according to Gunderson.

“There are a lot of veterans out there that need help. We are in a better spot [on campus] to help them. We’re here as a liaison to help veterans who are new to the community college experience be successful,” Gunderson said.

After the club’s first event on campus, Burke said he hopes that the club will branch out and continue their service outside of Meramec and network with other veterans.

“I wish that a lot of my students took their education as seriously as the veterans take theirs. There’s a lot of different ways to serve your country and it doesn’t have to be in a uniform. Students ought to be preparing themselves for citizenship,” Burke said.

Along with the Veterans Club, STLCC has programs to assist veterans with help registering for classes, applying for benefits, and other forms of assistance. Tracy Carpenter, the District Coordinator of Veterans Affairs and Navy medic, works with veterans across all four campuses to make their transfer from military to civilian life “a more seamless” transition.

“[We need to] acknowledge the veterans presence on every campus and in that acknowledgement giving veterans a more seamless journey through their education. We want to give our veterans an avenue to network and just simply say that we are here for each other,” Carpenter said.

According to Gunderson and Carpenter, the club will continue to volunteer and raise money for veterans on campus and throughout the community through organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, Habitat for Humanities, and The Mission Continues.

“There’s a lot of homeless veterans out there, even in the Saint Louis area. So we are planning on doing a clothing drive for homeless veterans, which is probably going to be our project next semester,” Gunderson said.

With other campuses beginning their veterans club this year and as Meramec’s Veterans Club finishes its second year, Carpenter strives for all four campuses to reach out and connect with veterans across the area to help them in their educational “journey”.

“My goal for STLCC veterans clubs is to belong to the Student Veterans Association of America, which is going to open some avenues for us as far as funding, scholarships, and community involvement, which is a big thing,” Carpenter said. “What we’re striving for is a unity across the district to emphasize that we are four campuses but one college and we are in this thing together.”

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