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A portion of the Student Veterans Appreciation Day banner that says "THANK YOU Student Veterans!"

View a video taken at Student Veterans Appreciation Day in Flash or Quicktime.

U celebrates student veterans

First-ever appreciation event highlights veterans' service to our nation

By Rick Moore

November 13, 2007; updated November 14

On Wednesday, November 14, the U held its first-ever Student Veterans Appreciation Day to honor its student veterans' service and sacrifice to the United States.

The celebration--which was capped off by an F-16 flyover--took place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on Northrop plaza on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. A few hundred people braved the blustery winds and occasional snow flurries to attend the event, including veterans and their family members, faculty, staff, students, and the general public.

Mary Koskan, director of One Stop Student Services at the U, said the day was designed to honor student veterans at the U "for their patriotism and willingness to serve in the military for their country."

The ROTC Joint-Service Color Guard and the Minnesota Marching Band kicked off the event, and speakers included Board of Regents chair Patricia Simmons, President Robert Bruininks, Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs commissioner Clark Dyrud, Regent Dean Johnson, and U student veteran Aaron Ledebuhr.

Simmons pointed out that freedom is at the core of activities at universities, and thanked the veterans for their role in keeping that intact. "We have academic freedom [and] we have freedom of expression because of the commitment from citizens like you."

The event also included the unveiling of plans and sketches for a veterans memorial that will be part of the new on-campus football stadium.

The tribute will be located at the open end of the stadium near the main entrance. It will include a 15-by-25-foot flag atop a 100-foot flagpole, and a 72-foot-long curved wall made of brick and carved stone. On the inside of the wall will be a staging area for ceremonies and other veterans activities.

The stadium veteran's tribute plan was developed by an advisory group of veterans and U officials who were charged by Bruininks in 2006 with developing a way to continue the tradition of the old Memorial Stadium by honoring veterans in the new stadium.

"This is going to be something that we will all be very, very proud of," said Denny Schulstad, retired Air Force brigadier general and co-chair of the advisory committee.

(Images of the Minnesota Veterans Tribute can be viewed at tribute photos.)

In addition, Athletics Director Joel Maturi announced that the opponent for the inaugural football game in the new stadium (September 12, 2009) will be the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Student Veterans Appreciation Day was sponsored by Comfort for Courage, Coca-Cola Beverage Partnership, the Office for Student Affairs, One Stop Student Services, TCF Bank, and University Dining Services.

'Going beyond the yellow ribbon'

At a Board of Regents meeting in September, Koskan talked about the increase in veterans coming to the University to continue their education, and the need to continue to increase the U's support services for those veterans.

During the spring 2007 semester, the Twin Cities campus had 531 students certified as veterans, up 24 percent from two years earlier. The Duluth campus had 117 veterans, Crookston 24, and Morris 20.

Koskan pointed out that all veterans, whether they have seen combat or not, face a major transition when switching from a military life to a collegiate life, which can include issues such as alienation, changes in relationships, mental and physical health concerns, and the need to process a different perspective on the world.

The University's One Stop Student Services, partially in response to suggestions made by student veterans, has implemented a number of new initiatives:

Veterans Transition Center

Another service at the University is the Veterans Transition Center (VTC), which provides a place for student veterans to meet, share stories, and relax. The VTC is operated by Comfort for Courage, a student-led nonprofit veterans support group. The center, currently housed in Room 15 of Eddy Hall, offers free pizza and soda every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and breakfast on Mondays at 8 a.m.

This past Friday, about a dozen students were lingering over leftover pizza at about 12:30 p.m. and welcomed a curious visitor. Ledebuhr, one of the scheduled speakers for Wednesday's program, pointed out that the climate for veterans has changed significantly since he started at the U four years ago. "[Comfort for Courage] didn't exist at the time, so there weren't other vets I could easily find," he says. About two years later the VTC was formed.

"Since then, we've been trying to get the word out to student veterans on campus that we're here to serve them and build a support network," says Ledebuhr, who notes that the VTC hopes to soon move into a larger space on campus. "I foresee the group growing even more when we have [more] space for them to stop by."

Justin Riechers, another student veteran who is in his third year at the U, says he had already become friends with some veterans before the VTC was formed, and that having a strong support network can be critical for transitioning students.

Says Riechers: "For some people, it's hard for them to stay in college if they don't have a good couple of buddies to hang out with."

Read more about the VTC and student Jeremiah Peterson's adjustment to campus life in From Iraq to the classroom.

Contains information from the University News Service