By Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer
Murray State’s Veteran Student Organization (VSO) is making strides to support veterans on campus and those serving overseas. VSO President Joseph Matias, senior from New York, who has been serving in the U.S. Army since 2008, has goals to build the veteran community on campus.
“The primary goal I am trying to establish for us is to get our name out there, to create a good name for veterans and to try and reduce the stigma that we all have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), are broken, drug/alcohol addicted individuals,” Matias said.
Supporting Veterans On Campus
Idealistically, the transition from military life back into civilian life would be seamless, but that is far from the truth as Ireland said the truth is many veterans have trouble adjusting.
Ireland said traditional college students who he has tried to advise, using his life experience, have been unreceptive.
“I’ve been around the block once or twice. I can maybe give you some advice that could help you out, and when you try to present that advice to them they just blow you off,” said Robert Ireland, senior from Fort Kent, Maine, who served 19 years in the U.S. Army.
Ireland said he used to get really upset in situations like that but has since learned patience. He said he and his fellow veterans can put on their filters and become the ultimate professionals when needed. But, he said, that is not who they really are, and with the VSO they can be themselves.
“When I was in, everything was held to an extremely high standard,” Matias said. “If you are not early, you are late; all your work has to be done perfectly,” he said. “Then, when I got out, all these kids lollygagging to class, showing up late, interrupting the teacher and essentially not knowing their place, drove me insane.”
Matias said after he got involved with the VSO and began making connections with other veterans, it was easier to deal with his transition.
“That’s why we love having this VSO and this veteran’s lounge,” Ireland said. “When the filters clog we can come in here (the Veteran’s Lounge) and unclog the filters.”
The Veteran’s Lounge is located in room 300 in Alexander Hall. The lounge has amenities such as computers, couches, snacks and coffee available for veterans daily. It is a place for veterans to study, relax and be around other veterans who can help with their transition process.
Eliminating The Stigma
One goal the VSO has made for the semester is to try and eliminate the stigma associated with veterans.
“They hear the term veteran and they automatically think combat veteran or combat arms,” Ireland said. “A lot of people don’t know or don’t understand that only about one-third of the military are trigger-pullers or combat arms.”
Ireland said everyone else is either service support or combat support. He said he would guess that currently, only 80 percent of that one-third have actually been deployed to a combat situation.
He said when the term veteran is used, that does not automatically mean that person has shot or killed people.
“It’s just like everything else in the civilian world,” Ireland said. “Not everybody is a teacher. There are janitors, you know, there are other jobs. A lot of civilians just think as soon as they hear military that he/she was pulling triggers.”
Ashley Medbury, senior from Henry County, Tennessee, who served for seven years in Navy Aviation, said she has been asked several times on campus how many people she has killed. This question is completely inappropriate considering she spent her career working on airplanes and not in a combat zone. Even if she had been in combat, this question would still be immensely disrespectful, she said.
“I was Navy aviation,” said Medbury. “I worked on airplanes. I fired a gun in boot camp, that was it. So silly questions like that show a general disconnect.”
Ireland said he is willing to talk to students about his service as long as they don’t ask questions that could violate operational security and they stay 100 percent respectful. He said it actually helps him deal with his experiences, but there is an appropriate time and place for everything.
In the past, the VSO has held discussion panels where students and faculty, both military and nonmilitary, can better understand the transition process veterans have to endure. More events like this may be scheduled at a later date.
Supporting Those Overseas
The VSO will be sending care packages to service members overseas for Christmas. Items to donate vary, but some items that would be useful are: baby wipes, black or green boot socks, white ankle socks without logos, candy, beef jerky, cookies/baked goods, hand sanitizer, peanut butter crackers, nuts, chips, DVD’s or video games and books.
Donations can be dropped off in the Veteran’s Lounge or Chris Jeter’s office, located in room 104 at Sparks Hall. The cut off for donations is Nov. 15, in order to get the packages shipped in time.
The VSO is asking for letters to put in the care packages as well. Every letter will be read to ensure no one has written hate mail.
VSO meetings are held monthly on the second Tuesday of each month. But Matias will be in the Veteran’s Lounge as much as possible in order to accommodate as many veterans as he can.
For more information, students can contact Matias at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow VSO on Facebook at Murray State Student Veterans.
“We volunteer to try and help make our country safer and make our country better and help other countries as well,” Matias said. “We share a bond that is like family, if not closer than family.”