The younger generations took time Monday to honor the greatest generation, as well as a newer class of men and women who have served in America’s armed forces.
Students at Cleveland State Community College recognized those who serve and have served in the military with a Veterans Day program filled with music, food and generosity.
The event was sponsored by the campus Veteran Affairs Department and the Social Work Club.
“We take a minute to recognize our veterans including our students and family members who are currently serving in our armed forces,” Jana Pankey, associate professor of the social work program, said.
Vocal Rhapsody, the campus small group vocal ensemble directed by Karen Dale, opened with an a cappella version of the national anthem.
CSCC President Carl Hite said he was glad to see so many of the student body participating in the event.
“We pick this one day a year to recognize our veterans,” Hite said. “But I think it’s important to recognize them every day.”
He pointed out the flags of many nations that hang in the George L. Mathis Student Center commons area.
“We have freedoms other countries represented by some of these flags may not have and make the United States the envy of the world. In order for that to continue, our veterans need to continue to serve,” he said.
Hite recited a poem titled “Veterans Day” which ends with the refrain: “They fought through may days and nights. And though we may not know each name, We thank all veterans just the same.”
Attendees were treated to two specially themed videos with the songs “God Bless The USA” and “Arlington,” a song about a soldier laid to rest at that national cemetery which brought tears to some members of the audience.
The mood was lightened when the ensemble returned to perform an upbeat medley of patriotic music including “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “God Bless America.”
The salute to veterans did not stop once the music and tributes faded.
Audience members were given the opportunity to write thank you notes to veterans who now reside at the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro.
Social Work Club members are also continuing their drive to collect socks and cleansing wet wipes to send to troops in Afghanistan.
“Some student veterans and family members who are enrolled at Cleveland State expressed a need that the active soldiers have for those items,” Pankey said.
A college campus is also an appropriate place to discuss military service as the rolls of the armed services are skewing younger and younger.
According to statistics from the individual branches of the Armed Forces, the average age of a member of the U.S. military is between 19 and 24.
The Marine Corps has the highest percentage of 18- to 21-year-olds with the average age of a recruit being 19.
Both the Army and Navy report an average service member age of 20 and the Air Force is somewhat higher, with an average age of 29.
Community colleges such as Cleveland State are playing an important role in the lives of veterans.
According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, the number of veterans or their dependents using GI benefits has almost doubled in the last four years.
The numbers from 2012 reported more than 945,000 veterans and their dependents are benefiting from the educational opportunities offered to members of the U.S. military.
More than $568 million in tuition dollars were awarded last year alone.
CSCC Veteran Affairs coordinator Ray Goad is himself a Marine veteran of Vietnam, and he says he sees much interest at the local campus.
“The connection between the colleges and the military is quite strong,” Goad said.
He said the biggest benefit he sees in the college-age student going into the military is the maturing process it offers.
“There are a lot of people who need structure in their lives and that’s what the military does,” Goad said.
He said there is a significant interest by the CSCC students in the military service option.
“I think some if it may be because of the economy,” Goad said. “There are also those who are sent to college but are not real sure that’s what they want. I think some are better off going to the military and then going to college.”
He said that is made much easier by the newest educational benefits earned by military service.
According to Goad, many military members are eligible to receive what is basically a totally free college education with all costs and materials paid. They are also eligible for a monthly housing allowance determined by the area in which they are attending classes.
He said currently 148 of the 3,500 members of the CSCC student body are veterans.
“That’s a pretty high number, especially not being near a post or military facility,” Goad said. “Two years ago we had [some of] the fastest growth in veteran numbers in the state. We’re hoping to get some National Guard members in, because they do have some training spots around the area.”
He said he has seen more patriotism and appreciation for the military in the college generation than he expected.
“I’ve been surprised,” Goad said. “I thought it was going to be in the opposite direction than my generation.”
He said when he served it was a feeling of obligation to serve the country.
“That was what you did as an American,” Goad said.
“This generation is coming along and I see a lot of patriotism. Sometimes I am shocked,” he said. “There are some that come in here just as patriotic as any I have ever seen talking about God, apple pie and country. I’ve seen them jump on someone who was talking bad about the country.”
He said he reminds them the other person is expressing their opinion and not to argue.
“It’s one of the freedoms that make this country worth serving,” Goad said.