December 11, 2018  

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Veterans Day 2018 – Something Good Going On At USM

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Despite the many overwhelming problems facing our nation today, on this Veterans Day we may want to reflect on a group of young Americans possessing extraordinary potential who in my view epitomize a “light in the darkness.”

I am referring to our young military veterans; American patriots who volunteered to serve Our Nation following the 9-11 terrorist attacks upon the United States of America. More specifically, I am speaking of the uncommon character routinely demonstrated by these young American men and women who courageously selected service to their nation ahead of personal comfort, fame, fortune and money.   

Who are these young veterans and what makes them uniquely different? In my role directing the USM Student Veterans at the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families, I have gained a unique insight and would like to share this with you.

Foremost, our student-veterans are wonderful and caring guys, and gals. They reflect values established from their years in the military eager to help others, yet focused on treating everyone with dignity and respect. In the military they learned many enduring lifelong lessons to include “all are created equal,” “truth and honesty define the person,” and a firm conviction that “wealth and race do not define the value of an individual.” 

These remarkable young veterans reflect the best in American citizenship and do so quietly with a firmness of purpose while purposefully not drawing attention to themselves.  I have closely observed many of them interact in community support projects, campus activities and caring for the homeless. Every challenge they encounter is met with positive energy, creative solution and an eagerness to make a difference for others.

Many of our student-veterans have graduated from USM as teachers, business owners, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and more. They learned from their years in the military that organization, communication and commitment to a pair of “four letter words” (hard work) is what truly defines success.

Most of them know more about leadership than any politician having learned that “real leaders” demonstrate courage in seeking the moral high ground, and always do the right thing. A few of our student veterans quietly deal with PTSD or some other service connected health condition; however, at the end of the day they are all simply good guys and gals. 

But who are these young men and women who sacrificed some of the prime years of their lives so that you are free to “be all that you can be?” Please allow me to share with you a small glimpse of men and women who one day may save our nation from self-destruction.

Ashley volunteered to serve in the Air Force Reserve immediately following the attacks of 9-11.  She was one of only a few individuals in her high school senior class to make such a decision.  She worked two jobs while attending classes (majoring in nursing) and today is caring for the sick, and ill at a local Hattiesburg hospital. Demanuel is another Air Force Veteran and member of the Mississippi Air National Guard. He earned a USM Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families Scholarship, excelled in the classroom as well as a leader of his fraternity. He earned a degree in Elementary Education and became a teacher to our young children. He is preparing to attend the Police Academy in Jackson with the intent of becoming a law enforcement officer. 

Gary is a Navy veteran who enlisted following 9-11 and is a husband, and father of three. He is a highly successful USM graduate student in the process of completing his doctorate in Biological Sciences. He plans to “give back” by pursuing a professional career with the VA helping fellow veterans.

Derek is an Army combat infantryman veteran and the first graduate of the USM MBA Sports Security Management program. He is serving in his dream job with the National Football League Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Bobbie is also an Army veteran, mother and active leader in her church. She earned her degree in accounting while serving as a VA work-study student and was the first recipient of the USM Veterans Center Leadership award. She works as an accountant with a firm located in Magee, MS.

Taylor (Business Management), Cody (Anthropology) and Kelo (Hospitality Management) met as USM student-Veterans, and together under the counsel of USM alumnus and Marine Corps veteran Chuck Scianna merged their creativity and resources to start their own private business (Eagle Action Sportz Paintball) located in Hattiesburg, MS. 

For the sake of brevity, I will introduce you to one last student-veteran (although we could go on all day and night). Matt is former Army officer who earned the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. He lives with and cares for his elderly mother while majoring in Logistics, Trade and Transportation.  He declined a USM “Purple Heart Scholarship” because he wanted someone else to benefit from such an opportunity. He is humble, hard-working, service oriented and a Golden Eagle.              

Yes indeed…Something good is going on at USM and we could add name after name, and some truly wonderful stories to the list of our remarkable student-veterans. I prefer though to wrap-up things by asking you to keep in mind the following factoid:  620 of our USM military students achieved a 3.0 or better grade point average for the Spring Semester 2017 whereas 51 of these students maintained a perfect 4.0 average. 

So tell me now, do these “good guys and gals” give you hope for a better future? They certainly inspire me to do more and more, and more.    

As British author J.B. Priestley once said, "I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning."  On this Veterans Day 2018, I submit to you that such is the manner in which our young Veterans approach each day of their lives outside the military and across our community.  Maybe we can learn something from them.

Authors Note:  If interested, you can help our student-veterans and their families by contributing to our drive to raise money for construction of a new USM Campus Veterans Center.  If interested, please contact Jeff Hammond at 601-264-4629

  • Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond (U.S. Army, ret.) is Director of the USM Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families