By K. Dawn Rutledge
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Tennessee State University’s annual Veterans Day ceremony revealed some stark statistics when guest speaker and Vietnam Veteran George Nichols gave a powerful history lesson on military service in the United States.
In front of a crowd of more than 150 students, faculty and staff, Nichols pointed to the first conflict in 1775, the American Revolutionary War, and said since that time about 42 million servicemen and servicewomen have defended the nation in times of war. Of that number, 967,000 paid the ultimate price – death.
“Unless you have been there, it is not possible to understand the tragedy of war,” said Nichols, a highly decorated veteran who is the recipient of two Bronze Stars, six Air Medals, and two Army Commendation Medals, to name a few.
Nichols went on to share that only 1 percent of the population is fighting war in the Middle East today. Many who serve in the military experience challenges later in life such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), substance abuse, and the inability to find employment due to education deficiencies or lack of job opportunities compatible with their military training. Nichols also said homelessness, suicide and illness are all consequences of war.
“There are 50,000 veterans who are homeless every single night,” he said. “And even with President Obama tripling the amount of money dedicated to addressing this effort, that funding only reduced the number of homeless vets to one-third. Also, 20 veterans commit suicide every single day. When you see a veteran, thank them because you have no idea what that veteran has been through.”
Many other ex-service men and women working at TSU attended the ceremony.
“As a veteran I was pleased to hear the speaker recognize all the sacrifices of our servicemen and servicewomen,” said Monica White, administrative assistant for Facilities Management and a Retired Air Force Tech (Technical) Sergeant, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I was touched by what he said happens to many veterans when they return as far as unemployment and as far as their condition when they come back with PTSD disorders and how that affects their lives. I honor them and I appreciate everything each veteran has done for me, those that I don’t know and those that have gone before me.”
Blake Cleckler, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, was also among those in attendance. He served on the USS Miami for seven years and is an ex-U.S. Navy Second Class Petty Officer. Since enrolling as a TSU student, he has become active with the TSU Veteran’s Association.
“It is nice to have a Veteran’s Association on campus, and TSU has been very receptive to us,” Cleckler said. “When we decided to start an association on campus, we received very good response from TSU officials. The willingness for TSU to help veterans is there, the students just have to be willing to take advantage of the opportunity.”
TSU is a Certified Vets Campus providing support services for veterans to ease their transition from military service to college life. It is also a proud participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP), a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows veterans to attend private schools and graduate programs costing more than the state tuition cap.
“Our veterans, as well as our current servicemen and servicewomen, serve and protect us from potential danger and harm from aggressive threats,” said Dr. Mark Hardy, vice president for Academic Affairs. “We owe them our gratitude and respect, and we proudly celebrate them and all they have done for this country.”