Speeches and Writing

Remarks at Student Veterans Appreciation Day

November 10, 2011

Note: Remarks are as prepared for delivery.


Eleven … eleven … eleven.

Special numbers, special day.

For those of you who are historians — and those who are not — on the 11th of November, 1918, at 11 a.m. European time, World War ONE ended.

No one knew then there were would another World War.

Eleven … eleven … at eleven o'clock.

Sadly, of course, wars have continued these past nine decades.

And veterans emerge after defending our country.

In many nations in Europe, what WE call Veterans Day is known as Remembrance Day.

I like that.

In some parts of Belgium, it is even called The Day of Peace.

I like that even better.

My father was a veteran. A career member of the Air Force, he spent a year in Vietnam.

I remember that year distinctly and the toll it took on my family.

So, this is not just Veterans Day, it is also Veterans' Families Day.

We honor and celebrate here those who have served and also their families, who have served in their own ways.

Let's give a round of applause to the veterans' families.

We are very proud of the veterans on campus and the services we do our best to provide.

There are about 800 students using benefits here on the Twin Cities campus and another total of 200 on our campuses in Duluth, Morris and Crookston.

Our Veterans Services office is considered a leader nationally.

Veterans, we are here to help you with your education and any transition issues you may have, or your families may have.

Staff Sgt. Carin Anderson, who oversees our office, is a veteran of the Iraq War. She was a member of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Carin does a great job.

Carin, please raise your hand, so we can recognize you.

If you're a veteran, and you don't know Carin, there she is. Find her. She can help you.

Also, we have a terrific Student Veterans Association, which helps build and sustain our veterans community.

Navy Petty Officer First Class Kimberly Wooster, who was deployed twice in the Persian Gulf and once in the North Sea, very ably leads our SVA.

Kimberly thank you for all the work the association does.

I'm proud of our infrastructure for veterans' support.

But if we fall short, or if you find that we're not doing enough, you let me know.

There will be much written and said today and tomorrow about veterans and Veterans Day.

But I was struck by an Op-ed piece I read in the Washington Post last Sunday.

It was written by Paula J. Caplan, a Harvard psychologist, and the author of "When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans."

It was directed at the 90 percent of us who are not veterans.

Caplan wrote the most productive way that every civilian can relate to veterans, no matter how we feel about war is this:

We can simply listen to their stories.

Caplan wrote: "Veterans tend to suffer in isolation, and vast research shows that isolation worsens nearly every kind of emotional pain."

She went on: "The next step for all of us is to make Veterans Day a National Day of Listening to Veterans."

"If every civilian listens to one veteran's story, we will become a war-literate nation … We will become a real community, where veterans know that their pain will be heard and understood."

We heard Micah Ternet's story earlier today.

Let me tell you two others.

One belongs to Brandon Haugrud, who actually works in our One Stop Student Services office.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Brandon enlisted in the U.S. Marines immediately after high school graduation.

Trained as field intelligence operator, Sergeant Haugrud was tasked with gathering intelligence on enemy movements, size, strength, and activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He briefed NATO forces to develop plans for counter-insurgency operations.

His assignment with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force brought him two tours of duty in Fallujah, Iraq, and Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

After his five-year military stint, Brandon enrolled in our College of Liberal Arts as a political science major.

Last May, he began an internship in office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar where, among other duties, he writes to federal agencies on behalf of veterans seeking assistance with their health and education benefits.

Just last week, Brandon was the University's sole delegate to the prestigious 63rd Student Conference on U.S. Affairs held at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY.

Brandon, please rise so we can recognize you.

Another story belongs to Neal Skees.

Neal grew up in Ham Lake, graduated from Andover High in 2004, and, soon after, enlisted in the U.S. Army as a 19 Delta, or Cavalry Scout.

He did two tours in Iraq with the 101st, Airborne Division, Air Assault.

The first tour was 12 months and the second was 15 months.

His pride in the 101st is elevated by this remarkable fact and incredible family tradition: His father was a member of the 101st Airborne in Vietnam; His grandfather was a member of the 101st Airborne in World War II.

Three generations of 101st Airborne veterans.

Neal, too, is a political science major, and he wrote to my office: "I cannot complain about my transition from active duty to college student.

"With the help of my wife, Jenna, who is studying law at Hamline University, and my family, the transition has not been as painful [as it would be] if I was alone.

"The Student Veterans Association and time at the Veterans Transition Center with other student veterans has eased this change of life style … We are able to vent about whatever is occurring on campus that is not the norm in military life."

I can tell you, as someone who grew up on Air Force bases, there is much that occurs on campus that is not the norm in military life!

Then Neal added this:

"After I graduate … I intend on returning to active duty to serve as an aviator in the U.S. Army …

"Even though our country might be in a situation that is not popular, there are still American men and women fighting, and I will not let them fight alone."

Neal, unfortunately, is in his "Quantitative Analysis in Political Science" class right now on the West Bank, but let's honor him with a round of applause that, maybe, he will hear.

In closing, tomorrow, on the 11th day of the 11th month of this 11th year of the century, let us all pause to remember the contributions of our veterans and their families, and to hope for peace.

To all our veterans, thank you.

We at the University of Minnesota — on all of our campuses — are so proud of you and so happy you and your families are part of our community.

Thank you again.