By Nick Erickson
This Veterans Day comes less than three months after the United States withdrew the remainder of its troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of combat. Subsequent events have included the Kabul airport bombing on Aug. 26 and the Taliban regaining control of the country, making the military subject to polarizing political conversations.
That discourse has presented itself loudly on airwaves and social media and has fallen on the ears of the military community. According to the Military Times, calls to the Veterans Crisis Line increased significantly earlier this fall amid the end of operations in Afghanistan.
GW Veterans, run through the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services (OMVSS) in the Division for Student Affairs, is a student organization offering an outlet and sense of community while advocating for the academic, professional and social support for the nearly 1,600 military-affiliated students at George Washington University.
David Murray, senior neuro science student and president of GW Veterans, said the organization always seeks to foster an understanding and open environment, and he emphasized that importance considering recent events involving the United States military.
“We all have really unique experiences here, and those experiences all have value,” said Mr. Murray, who served as a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy from 2012-2017. “It’s important to provide somewhere safe and somewhere free to talk about it.”
Even during a weekday afternoon, the Military Community Center at 2035 F St. NW can be bustling with activity. GW Veterans—as well as OMVSS—aims to create that military culture on campus and provide a home for those looking to become engaged at GW, especially as some military-affiliated students may be at a different stage in their lives than peers on campus.
“Whether you are a prospective student, a current student or alumni, our office strives to help you succeed through education benefits processing, career services and mindfulness and mental health support,” said Christian Manning, OMVSS program manager. “One of the best resources that GW offers in this endeavor is the Military Community Center.”
Students can also showcase their own experiences by placing a pin on the map where they have either served or lived during their time affiliated the military. That map is plastered with pins, color coded to symbolize the branch of service, all over the globe, including plenty in Afghanistan.
GW Veterans welcomes military dependents knowing full well the sacrifices they make directly impacts the sacrifices of service members. Senior international affairs and psychology double major Regan Sweeney, the organization’s vice president and daughter of an Air Force veteran, said that inclusion is vital.
“We have such a unique view of the world and of the country and of other people and how to collaborate and work with others, and I think it’s important to find that community,” said Ms. Sweeney, who has also worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
All military-affiliated students at GW come with their own stories and upbringings, and they are bonded by a larger sense of community. For them, Veterans Day is about celebrating that bond and recognizing how their service or connection to it has shaped who they are as people. It’s about reflection, and in this fast-paced world often filled with political tension, they hope the general population pauses for a moment, too.
“Veterans Day is really about looking around in your community and understanding how many people have served,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s about looking around in your circles and saying ‘thank you, I’m glad you’re still here, and I’m glad that you still bring these things that make you who you are.’”
In addition to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment, GW Veterans also encourages civic engagement on campus and around Washington, D.C. It offers an array of volunteer opportunities, career fairs and social outings throughout the school year.
GW will formally say its thanks at 10 a.m. on Thursday, as OMVSS and GW Veterans will conduct a ceremony at Kogan Plaza. A flag planting ceremony will follow. This year’s Veterans Day of Service will take place both virtually and in-person Saturday, Nov. 20. The Smithsonian Transcription Project, which will be done on Zoom, and the Wilder Circle are partners.