WHO WE ARE:
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Highlights from SVA National Conference Speakers
Last week’s national conference for the Student Veterans of America featured a series of compelling speakers from across the federal government, military and private industry who each sought to highlight the quality work of student-veterans on college campuses around the country, inspiring student-veterans to excel in their academic programs and continue serving the veterans’ community and the nation after college.
On Friday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki delivered the keynote address, encouraging student-veterans to “graduate, graduate, graduate.” In his remarks, Shinseki applauded SVA and its members for continuing a long tradition of service to the veterans’ community, following in the path of organizations like the VFW by spearheading innovative efforts to ensure the needs of a new generation of veterans could be met.
Shinseki said that he was inspired by the work of SVA on local levels and that the organization’s plans for future growth could help SVA define itself as the credible voice for today’s veterans.
Shinseki went on to say that the robust education benefits available to today’s veterans have laid the groundwork for a potential new “Greatest Generation” of veterans, likening the challenges faced by today’s veterans to the challenges faced by late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II and was inspired to serve as a leader in the Senate by fellow WWII veterans Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Hart.
Shinseki was careful to note that today’s veterans have a lot of work to do to earn the title of the “Next Greatest Generation,” but that he believed the young men and women leading student-veterans clubs on college campuses today are heading in the right direction.
On Saturday, retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey took to the stage to speak to SVA. After echoing the sentiments of Shinseki and applauding the student-veterans community for their hard work, Casey stuck around through the remainder of the conference to meet one-on-one with student-veterans and organizational supporters like the VFW.
The conference also featured inspirational speeches from Kevin Preston, director of human resources for veterans affairs with the Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Dr. Eric J. Barron, president of Florida State University, and Jacob Wood, president and co-founder of Team Rubicon.
Preston, a retired U.S. Army colonel, shared his personal experiences transitioning from the military into the career he wanted. Preston said he long envisioned working for Disney, so a couple of years before retirement, he decided to start cultivating professional relationships through which he could get his foot in the door. Preston also emphasized that his transition was not a solitary venture, but rather he relied on a five-member team of supporters who helped him realize his career aspirations by offering moral support, academic support, civilian transitional support, specific industry knowledge and candid criticism. He encouraged student-veterans to start building their own teams as soon as possible and to take advantage of professional internships to ensure the transition from military life to academic life and into a career would prove rewarding.
Barron, an academic who never served in the military, shared the success story of Florida State’s SVA chapter, which only two years ago approached him with a concept to better serve veterans on campus. Barron said he was inspired by the tact and foresight brought to him by FSU’s student-veterans, and that he now strives for his school to become the most veteran-friendly in the state of Florida.
Barron pointed out that FSU’s student-veterans did not just approach his office to point out the problems facing student-veterans on campus, but that they brought insightful, strategic solutions to ensure the problems could be solved. As a result, Barron quickly commissioned an advisory committee on campus, developed a long-term vision, and provided his student-veterans with the tools they needed to take decisive steps to improve veteran services on campus.
Wood, a former Marine Corps sniper, shared the personal story of how he and fellow Marine veteran Clay Hunt founded the disaster-relief organization Team Rubicon in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Wood said that he and Hunt were spurned by traditional disaster-relief organizations when they offered their unique military training and expertise to help with recovery efforts, so they dipped into their own bank accounts to finance flights to Haiti to offer assistance on the ground.
Wood said he and Hunt recognized on their mission to Haiti that veterans’ unique skills could be put to good use in response to natural disasters around the world. Unfortunately, Hunt, who continued to be haunted by his experiences at war, took his own life in 2011. Wood said losing his best friend was the most difficult ordeal of his life, but that it inspired him to further develop the Team Rubicon model to offer opportunities for veterans to leverage their skills in response to stateside disasters like the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Hurrincanes Irene and Sandy in the northeast.
In his remarks, Wood sought to drive home that although veterans may face crises and roadblocks during the difficult transition to civilian life, it was important to be able to identify opportunities to improve ourselves and our communities through them.
Next: SVA recognizes VFW staff for efforts to support student-veterans.
(Image: VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addresses nearly 700 attendees at the Student Veterans of American national conference in Orlando. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)