BY COURTNEY DITTO
Michael Smith, director of the Washtenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs, and veteran himself, stated that on Veterans Day, they are able to come by to hear words of appreciation that unfortunately many veterans don’t receive otherwise.
“What’s really neat about (Veterans Day) is the military itself. The armed forces are full of honors and lineages, military customs and courtesies and history that goes all the way back to the creations of our branches of service,” stated Smith.
Veteran and Washtenaw Community College student Thomas Harris, 35, served 15 years of active duty in the Army, and continues to serve in the Reserves, states that he feels very fortunate that he and the other veterans at WCC are offered the opportunity to continue their education, while some veterans are unable to divulge in that benefit. Harris says while Veterans Day is important to him as a veteran, he takes the opportunity to appreciate those who may have been forgotten.
“To me personally, Veterans Day is understanding the sacrifice that was done before me. We have a saying that ‘all gave some, but some gave all’ and those that gave all, they are no longer here with us so we pay tribute to that, and pay our respects to our fallen comrades,” Smith said.
However, after this historic and important day has passed, many organizations and community centers such as WCC’s Veterans Center continues to work tirelessly to strive in aiding veterans in any way possible, such as providing them with vocational rehabilitation and academic advising.
Since it’s opening in 2012, the Veterans Center has been dedicated to helping veterans transition into the WCC community, and between 250 to 300 veteran students use the services provided by the center every semester. The Veterans Center takes time to ensure that the classes they take match their program and are eligible under the education benefits provided by their GI Bill. Harris said it was amazing to gain the assistance in “transitioning from military life to community student life.”
While education is a key component, one of the most important services of the Veterans Center lies outside academics, and resonates within the emotional support and togetherness that veterans feel while there. Alberto Acosta, a 25-year-old student and veteran from Ypsilanti, came to WCC after five years of active duty in the Army. He stated that upon starting, he felt lost until a counselor referred him to the Veterans Center. He was able to receive the help he had searched for in his educational career, while also discovering a little something else, something he believed he’d lost: “a sense of community that I didn’t think I had anymore.”
The Veterans Club formed directly from the Veterans Center, where members run different functions to help in support of other veterans, encourages WCC students to be involved with events such as the Veterans Supply Drive where the club collected clothing to donate to homeless veterans last week.
Acosta, who serves as the president of the club, tributes this as “giving back” to those who have also served in the military, and is grateful to see students involved. Though saying he could not vouch for everyone involved with the Veterans Center, Acosta stated, “We built a family there and that’s why it’s important to me.”