Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

The veteran & military dependent sitting beside you


You’re sitting in class, nervous about your test, wondering if you studied enough amidst the party invites, the late night caffeine and computer issues when trying to log in to your myBama account. Beside you, however, are all of these issues and so much more.

Beside you, there may be thoughts of a loved one deployed in a danger zone, wondering whether or not they will ever see them again, wondering if they will come home or if they will be counted among the ever growing list of casualties. Or maybe it’s the veteran student, themselves, that unspokenly sees your worries as trivial, although maintaining respect towards you and the fact that you haven’t had to endure the memories that now scar their mind from a knowledge of how the real world outside of higher education actually operates. Their’s is a mind that understands the difference that one person can make because their life was saved because of one individual who gave theirs so that the student sitting in the chair beside you could return home to see their child be born or to get married and start college.

Too many students see education as another step that is expected of them without realizing the value that it truly represents. It is often paid for, either by student loans, wealthy parents, scholarships or someone trying to make piecemeal payments to Student Receivables. The seasoned veteran, however, who has been deployed onto the streets of Kabul, traversed the mountainous terrain of the offshoots of the Himalayas, only to have a kid walk up to him while in full gear to ask for a pen or pencil, often sees things a little differently. Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq understand what it is like to have to move a school for girls in Khowst, Afghanistan, after it was bombed and rocketed, to inside the perimeter of protection our U.S. military provided. They have witnessed children as young as ten dig up live land mines and bring them to the front gate in an attempt to trade them for school supplies. They saw children under eight walk miles daily just to attend school with their older siblings and then they return to the U.S. and come face to face with those of us that take this luxury for granted as an expected burden. For the seasoned veteran, the burden to study, although difficult at times, is seen as a luxury and a privilege.

The dependents of these veterans are not far removed from this dynamic, either, and for some, the dynamic dives deeper into the arena of legacies left behind by a loved one. For example, take your Fry Scholars. These are students whose parents have died in the line of duty, only for our nation to leave behind a benefit that pays for their college, or at least the in-state portion in the case of out-of-state students. Similarly, you have the dependents of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks who had scholarships set up for them in the midst of chaos. To these students, sitting in the desk beside you, or engaging in an online chat for class, their opportunity to obtain an education is a legacy left behind for them by their parent or spouse as the one last gift that is far too precious for anyone of us to fully understand. But somehow, they often seem to carry themselves better than the rest of us. Maybe it’s the sense of mission or purpose that many of us are still trying to find, that they have, . . . that ironically those of us without are envious of. Either way, only few can compare with the honor of their family’s legacy, a legacy involving the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us to live in peace. And for the seasoned veteran, these dependents also represent the children of their fallen brothers in arms, a dynamic that is just as powerful as adoption, without the paperwork, as a sense of loyalty to the fallen brethren becomes stronger than any contract and invades the heart.

Many rightfully see the memorialization of 9.11 as a way to remember to never forget, and to honor the firefighters, police officers and first responders that so selflessly sprung to action, and who are also deserving of honor in their own right for their patriotic sacrifices.

For the military population, however, 9.11 was more than something that happened to us as a nation. It was a cause that sent men and women for months on end into the pits of hell to rectify what occurred on our shores. For it was the military that carried a flag from the site of the World Trade Center into the heart of Afghanistan where we took the fight back to the enemy. That flag was carried by an Army Ranger who visited campus last year and spoke at the Delta Chi dinner. And while we value the strength of our armed forces, what we seek is a return to peace, for as Douglas MacAuthur stated, “the soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

So as you sit in your class, remember, our nation owes a never-ending debt to our military population, and our civilian counterparts, but the greatest repayment of that debt is a sense of patriotism among the student body and the administration. Yes, there are needs, financial, emotional, relational, etc., but our greatest need is a continued and strengthened love for our country and those that serve it unwaveringly. Our veterans and their dependents are not broken vessels, although they may be scarred by real life erupting into chaos because a service member made a choice to endure the chaos and the scars it brings, but for what reason? 

The reason is for you. Someone they may have never met, or just as likely someone motivated by 9.11 to reenlist because you mattered to them and our country mattered to them. For those that serve, the sense of military honor gleaned from service is far greater than many students will ever experience in life or understand. But just as we need our military, we need our economists, our lawyers, our social workers, and nurses, our artists to capture the relationships represented by life, authors to tell their stories and the professors that fuel the economic engine and health of our country while we honor those that preserve the future posterity of our nation.

Therein lies the balance and the reason patriotism works both ways. We honor our military and their families, because all too often those families are ourselves fulfilling our mission in life as we depend on those giving their lives for us without us knowing or giving it meaningful thought. Patriotism, however, awakens that spirit within us that shows appreciation and a sense of nationalism that can propel us forward and empower us to overcome any obstacle, whether threats from outside countries or economic downturns and political upheaval within. Patriotism is what can bind us, strengthen us, grow us, and protect us and what we build as a nation while also being the legacy we leave behind for future generations.

In closing, thank you, UA, for your sense of patriotism, for people like Dr. Bonner who got behind the military population on campus, for having student organizations such as CVA, Veterans in Business, Caring for Camo, Relatives of Valor, and others such as the Veteran Law Support Association. Although you are independent student groups, collectively, you help to shape the military friendliness of the institution. Similarly, colleges across campus, UA Athletics that honors our military at events, fraternities and sororities, faculty members, advisors, and support staff, many of whom are veterans or dependents themselves, also play a major role in fostering a welcoming atmosphere to our returning veterans and their family members. You add value. Your role matters. I encourage you to continue to add value and support for this population, a population that has already given so much and understands the deeper meaning of sacrifice and honor and who appreciates a sense of order and comradery.

Over the years, these relationships that you are fostering build friendships that turn into networks that help facilitate the creation of successful alumni to support the future veterans that come through the halls of The University of Alabama. Your contribution, if continued, can have far reaching effects and become a legacy in and of itself as The University of Alabama continues to be recognized for our courtesy to our military population and the value we refuse to let go of in regards to this population. As it stands already, the University is known among the highest levels of government and within the top echelons of DOD. It has been recognized nationally and has gained the eye of business organizations seeking to recruit specifically from within this population, but this will only remain if you’re support remains unwavering and committed from the lowest levels to highest levels, from both the student body and the administration, and all of us somewhere in between, as this population truly touches someone in some way in nearly every office on campus. It is as diverse a population as diversity itself. One Team. One Bama. #OTOB

Jason Sellars is the Assistant Director of the Office of Veteran & Military Affairs. He was an Army Ranger and served on Active Duty in the United States Army from 1998 to 2004, having deployed to FOB Salerno and Chapman Airfield (Khowst, Afghanistan) in 2003/2004 after reenlisting following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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