National Military Appreciation Month: Student Veterans of McDaniel

Image courtesy of: Matt Howard

This May, National Military Appreciation Month, we should remember our student veterans at McDaniel; they deserve recognition and honor for serving their country and for pursuing a higher education.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Eric Atherton, there are 40 to 50 student veterans enrolled in McDaniel College.

Atherton has worked for 21 years in the Army. He was hired by the college in 2013 as a professor and chair of the Military Science Department. Atherton is also a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Anyone that serves honorably in the military, regardless of how long, is considered a veteran whether they are deployed or not,” says Atherton.

Next fall, Atherton plans to organize a faculty development seminar to talk about veteran students and how they can make their classrooms a better place, valuing their experiences and letting them share them.

He also supports “Veterans on the Hill,” a program created by Karen Violanti, Associate Dean for First Year Students, and students veterans.“The purpose of that is to show that student veterans are a diverse class with certain needs. They have different life experiences and responsibilities than a typical student. They bring that life experience into the classroom,” explains Atherton.

Violanti says that this program was created three years ago through the collaboration of faculty and staff with The Office of Student Engagement, The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, as well as many other offices at McDaniel College.

According to Violanti, Veterans on the Hill hosted a series of events this semester called “Coffee Break” during which student veterans had the opportunity to meet with other student veterans and connect with different offices and organizations on campus. “We want to be supportive, we want to reach out, we want to recognize and celebrate that these people are part of our community,” says Violanti.

Allen Calvert, a 60 year-old student veteran, is in charge of the Veterans on the Hill program. Calvert was born in upstate New York and he did four tours in Germany during the Vietnam War. He was also stationed in Maryland in 1993.

Calvert, now retired, says that his only priorities are the Veterans on the Hill program and finishing his bachelor’s degree. According to Calvert, he chose McDaniel College to continue his education because of its historical ties and because it is not anti-military. He is majoring in business with a focus in environmental issues.

“I guess the biggest fallacies that I have encountered is that everybody assumes, since I am a veteran, I am going to school for free on a GI Bill and I am not because of my age and the gap between when I got out of the military and when I went to school. I have no veteran funding for my education,” says Calvert.

Calvert also says that the GI bill does not support the Vietnam War veterans as much as it does for other wars, like the post 9/11 one.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 better known as the G.I. Bill was updated once again in 2008. “The new law gives Veterans with active duty service on, or after, Sept. 11 2001, enhanced educational benefits that cover more educational expenses, provide a living allowance, money for books and the ability to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.”

Dr. Bryn Upton, associate professor from the history department, says that Americans did not celebrate or appreciate Vietnam War or Korean War veterans as they did with other wars.

“I think there were definitely times when veterans were appreciated, celebrated; there was a lot of effort put into commemorations for the Civil War and for people after World War II. What has caused a lot of consternation is that we did not do a good job recognizing or celebrating the veterans of the Korean War or the Vietnam War because those wars were more publicly contentions,” explains Upton.

Calvert says that Vietnam veterans only had ten years to use the money and it was not transferable.

“McDaniel has been treating me well; it is not a full ride, but a fair ride,” says Calvert about paying for college.

After finishing his career at McDaniel College, he plans on searching for jobs in facility management. He is interested in expanding existing alternative energy programs or establishing such programs where they are needed.

“But at my age, after college, I only have one more year before being eligible to collect social security,” jokes Calvert.

Matt Howard is a 25-year-old student veteran. After his second year in college, he decided to enlist in the US Air Force where he served for four years active duty military police. He then came to McDaniel to be part of the ROTC program.

Howard is a commuter student from Fredrick, Maryland. He is currently a junior and he is majoring in criminology and sociology. He came back to college and enrolled into the ROTC program because he wants to become an officer and thinks it is an excellent program to be part of.

“It is more like a laid back atmosphere to really make sure you understand the material, they want you to succeed and they would take any questions from you.  I would recommend doing this. I wish I would have done this first before enlisting that way I would be younger,” says Howard.

According to Atherton, ROTC at McDaniel College is a bachelor’s degree program which helps  students develop their leadership skills in theory and in practice. At the same time, these students gain military skills.

Howard is studying with the G.I. Bill benefits. “I like it because this school is what they call a ‘yellow ribbon school,’ so if my G.I. Bill doesn’t cover it, McDaniel takes care of the rest,” explains Howard.

Howard came to McDaniel because of the treatment of veterans. “I feel normal; it’s not like I sit in class with a sign that says I’m a veteran,” says Howard.