Saturday, December 17, 2011

UMass Boston Veterans' Perspectives

“I just see, right now the military, and military families... it's not fair what they're going through, and I just feel like we have to come up with a whole new strategy.” -- Jon Stewart, 2011/06/30.

Veterans are a strong presence in UMB student life. The Student Veterans Center (SVC), located in the Student Life offices on the third floor of the Campus Center, is one of the most active student organizations on campus. Veterans serve in student government, work for the student newspaper, and generally maintain a strong campus presence. Still, while all veterans have served, their divergent personalities and experiences give each of them a different point of view.  Even serving in the same branch of the service can lead to vastly different perspectives.

Caleb Nelson, recently retired from the position of editor-in-chief of The Mass Media, served in the US Navy. Patriotism and a desire for free education were early motivators: he joined in 2004, when he was 18. He left in 2008 with partial deafness in his right ear, ready for the rest of his education. He is not sanguine about the Middle East. “I’m glad we’re out of Iraq,” he said thoughtfully. “The Afghanistan war is tough to be against, because from this ivory tower it looks pretty bad... But invading in the first place caused another problem: how do we leave gracefully? We're banging around out there like a drunk guy at his sister's wedding.” 

Caleb (left) on duty
Like Caleb, Caroline Necheles, former coordinator of the SVC and current speechwriter for the UMB Undergraduate Student Government (USG) executive branch, served in the Navy.  She had two stints, 1995-1998 and 2001-2008. In 2006, she was injured in a motorcycle accident while on break from active duty; she is still recovering. Even when her opinions disagreed with policy, she did her duty. “I loved what I did,” she explained. “Was it beneficial, I don't know. I served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but... I knew we never belonged there to begin with.”

Caroline Necheles (right) with Elizabeth Warren at Commencement Day at UMB
Patrick Duff, former student senator and current SVC assistant coordinator, served in the Navy from 1999-2001. He was diagnosed with PTSD resulting from his service. His symptoms include “inhibited sleep patterns, fear of loud noises and crowds, impaired memory, and occasional disorientation.” His opinion of US military interventions in the Middle East? “[T]hey are a waste of lives on both sides, and were predicated on lies which so many brave men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for. I would like to see the full withdrawal of American military strength ASAP, and the prompt hand-over of the country to local officials.”

Patrick Duff
Their opinions about Veterans Day vary, but each has a message for civilians. 
Patrick: “I want civilians to think about veterans every day of the year, not just one day.” 
Caroline: “To the civilians that look from the outside and have no understanding of what we do: We are given orders; we follow those orders. I served because it is what I wanted to do.” 
Caleb: “Don't celebrate Veterans Day. Memorial Day matters much much more... [S]ave your attention for the people that are in the military now, or dead from it. What about the Peace Corps? Where's their holiday?”

“1% of the country is doing 100% of the fighting, taking 100% of the bullets, nothing gets asked of the rest of us.” -- Tom Brokaw, 2011/11/03.

Don’t wait for Veterans Day to learn about retired and active members of our military. Say hello, be polite--and above all else, respect their service.

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