November 5th, 2012 - Filed under: Cover Story
The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs provides an open door for all service members and their families on campus.
Veterans, active-duty members, dependents: no matter who they are, where they come from or why they choose the Capstone, when they arrive at the UA Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, they find a home.
Once scattered in different offices across campus, services and resources for members of the military and their dependents now have their own home, in the bottom floor of B.B. Comer Hall. The director of this new, larger resource for military students is David Blair, himself a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army. A native of Columbus, Miss., Blair entered the military right after high school. In 2007, after retiring from military service, he immediately went to work at Mississippi State University as veterans outreach coordinator. In September 2011 he became VMA director at UA, tasked with helping students transition from military life to college by providing services, fostering peer connections, and coordinating University and community support.
“I envision the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs as being a one-stop shop for all veterans, service members and dependents, where all programs and services are focused on student academic success,” Blair said. Staff have been added to assist students with everything from being certified for benefits (usually the first issue students have when arriving) to programming, to serving as liaison with faculty who want to know how better to relate to students from a military background.
Alex Karagas, coordinator in the VMA office, explained that much of what the VMA staff does is direct students to existing resources. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said, “because we already have access to the Career Center, Counseling Center, academic advisers, housing and so forth.”
About 525 UA students have self-identified as military veterans or active-duty personnel; another 1,550 identify as dependents of service members. Other veterans or dependents, for various reasons, choose not to identify themselves.
“It can be isolating as an older student, having experienced a lot of the world, when so many students here are right out of high school or have never left the country,” said Laura Hurter, a U.S. Air Force veteran studying anthro-pology. “I can see for some people it’s easier just not to discuss having been in the military.” That feeling of isolation or being different from others isn’t found in the VMA offices, she said. “It’s so great having a central place to come because you know they understand, and you can connect with others from a military background.”
Military dependents can also feel different from their campus peers, even those of the same age. The VMA office is a home for them, too, says nursing student Chelsi Davis, whose father’s air force career took the family to military bases across the United States. “When you come into the VMA you don’t have to explain yourself or your background. They get it.”
VMA staff want the rest of campus to get it, too. With Veterans Day approaching, the time is perfect for a week of activities and events focusing on UA’s veterans, service members or dependents.
“These students, faculty and staff members have served and sacrificed more than most can comprehend,” Blair said. He pointed out that though most students, faculty and staff have not been in the military, almost every individual has some connection with the military. “Whether we have a father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend serving in the armed forces, most of us have some connection.
“My sincere desire is that every event throughout the week be well attended by all across campus and in the community,” Blair said. It’s another way for UA to say to service members, “Welcome home.”
Veterans Week Schedule
(For more details on the week’s events, visit vets.ua.edu or call the VMA office at 348-0983.)
Wednesday, Nov. 7
- 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Sellers Auditorium in Bryant Conference Center – “All of Us Fought the War: The University of Alabama and Its Men and Women in World War II” book launch
Saturday, Nov. 10
- Alabama and Texas A&M Tailgate – Tailgate on the Quad before the game with veterans, dependents and service members from UA and Texas A&M
Monday, Nov. 12
- 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Quad – Veteran ceremony to kick off Veterans Week
- 5:30-7 p.m. – Opening of Battle of Branches/Campus Veterans Association Meeting, student competition between all the branches of the military
- Opening Speaker: Delbert Reed, author of “All of Us Fought the War”
Tuesday, Nov. 13
- Noon-1 p.m., University Club – Faculty and Staff Veteran Luncheon, recognition of all faculty and staff veterans on campus
- All Day Event, 1 B.B. Comer Hall – Battle of the Branches: Wii Tournament
- 5:30-6:30 p.m., Anderson Room in Ferguson Center – Battle of the Branches: Spoken Word
Wednesday, Nov. 14
- Faculty and Staff Lunch and Learn (TBA)
- Battle of the Branches: Community Service Project with VA (TBA)
Thursday, Nov. 15
- Faculty and Staff Lunch and Learn (TBA)
- 4-8 p.m., Butler Field Hall – Battle of the Branches: Intramurals
Friday, Nov. 16
- 2-4 p.m., 1 B.B. Comer – Veteran and Military Affairs Office Grand Opening
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