Salute those serving for you: take note of veterans on campus

When many people think of Memorial Day, aging veterans of World War II come to mind. However, it’s important to realize there are also veterans and veterans-to-be sitting next to us in classes, studying with us in the library and walking past us on the Quad.

Last week, 43 students and recent graduates became commissioned officers in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy at the ROTC commissioning ceremony. Commissioned officers derive their authority from the President, and are considered presidential appointees. Nationwide, 20,000 students are currently training through ROTC to be officers in the Army, the branch with the biggest ROTC contingent. Upon successful competition of the ROTC program, which involves both classes and rigorous physical training, students become commissioned officers and serve in their branch for at least five years.

When you see ROTC cadets in uniform around campus, view them not just as your fellow students or club members, but as people who are committing themselves to a future of service at a time when many of us have yet to decide on a major.

Some students arrive on campus already having served their country in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas around the world. According to the University’s Office of Veterans Affairs, about 700 veterans are enrolled as students, and according to the Department of Education, about 210,000 veterans nationwide are attending four-year colleges.

Under the post-9/11 GI Bill passed last summer, qualifying veterans who have served since 2001 receive education benefits, including full tuition at any public university in their state.

However, getting the funds to attend college is often the smallest hurdle for returning servicemen and women. Veterans have to adjust to attending classes with students who are often five or six years younger, and who haven’t experienced the “real world” in the same way.

Terry Timmons, a former University student and Army veteran quoted in an earlier Daily Illini article about student veterans, said that “coming back, being older, supposedly wiser, you feel like you don’t fit in.” After risking their lives overseas and experiencing some of the harshest conditions imaginable, veterans have to make another harsh readjustment to civilian and student life, often without much support from the University or from their community. Keep in mind that the same people you copy notes from in class or see at parties could be the men and women who have or will risk their lives to keep us safe.

In the week after Memorial Day and throughout the year, show your gratitude to America’s many dedicated veterans and veterans-to-be by listening to their stories and supporting them as they adjust to civilian life. It’s the least we can do in return for their courageous sacrifices.