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VIDEO ADDED: Ribbons for our veterans near and far

By Dave Jones on November 10, 2014 in University

Ribbons for Our Veterans Near and Far

THE INVISIBLE WAR

Wednesday, Nov. 5 — The Davis Student Veteran Organization presents a free screening of The Invisible War, Academy Award nominee for best documentary feature (2013), on the topic of sex assault in the military. 6-8:30 p.m., multipurpose room, Student Community Center. Free. Space is limited; RSVPs may be made online. The film runs 93 minutes, and a panel discussion will follow.

The Invisible War has done something exceptionally rare,” Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in The Daily Beast. “Rather than tackling an issue that’s safely in the past, (director Kirby) Dick and his subjects have confronted an ongoing culture of sexual violence and grotesque indifference in one of the country’s most respected institutions. And instead of being dismissed as Hollywood liberalism, or creating a temporary spike in awareness that dissipates shortly after its release, The Invisible War is helping push forward action in Congress and substantive reform in the military itself.”

Megan Kennedy, interim president of the Davis Student Veteran Organization, said the DSVO “chose to screen this film to educate the Davis community on some of the challenges that veterans face even out of service.”

"Along with the new attention brought to sexual violence on college campuses, this demonstrates to school administrators that resources are needed to support not only survivors of college sexual violence, but survivors of sexual violence coming to college campuses.”

ON THE SACRAMENTO CAMPUS

Monday, Nov. 10 — Veterans Day reception for all UC Davis Health System faculty, staff, trainees and students who are veterans. 5-7 p.m., third-floor breezeway, Education Building. The organizers said Thomas Nesbitt, associate vice chancellor for Strategic Technologies and Alliances, is hosting the program, which will include three speakers: Timothy Albertson, professor and chair, Department of Internal Medicine, retired brigadier general in the Army, and commander of the California State Military Reserve; Mark Christiansen, director, Physician Assistant Program, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve; and Andrew Figoni, third-year medical student, president of his class, lieutenant in the Navy.

Wednesday, Nov. 12 — A Department of Veterans Affairs representative will host a grand round presentation covering issues that military veterans face when transitioning back into their stateside communities. Questions? Contact Elaine Nakata by phone, (916) 734-5447, or email.

Thursday, Nov. 13 — Representatives from the Social Security Administration and Sacramento County Veteran Services Office will discuss benefits and services for veterans and members of their families. 4-5 p.m., MIND Institute. RSVPs requested by Nov. 12, by contacting Elaine Nakata by phone, (916) 734-5447, or email.

Related story: Alan Sung '06 answers the call, in the Marine Corps and beyond.

•••

By Dave Jones

The ribbons are back — the yellow ribbons around every tree on the Quad, sending a message that we want our troops to return home safe and sound from wherever they may be stationed or deployed.

Veterans, staff members and others put up the ribbons last evening (Nov. 3), and they will stay there through Veterans Day, next Tuesday (Nov. 11).

The ribbons also acknowledge UC Davis’ “thriving and growing” student veteran population, said Hope Medina, retention services coordinator who oversees the campus’s TRV Center, serving transfer students, re-entry students and veterans.

Four years ago the center worked with about 170 students who received education benefits stemming from military service. That number is around 200 today and is likely to go higher as the military continues its troop drawdown.

Yellow ribbons first adorned the Quad’s 100-plus trees as a Veterans Day observance in 2011, in a project organized by Felipe Grimaldo, a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Iraq, and who had arrived on campus as a transfer student that fall.

“When I started here there wasn’t really anything going on for Veterans Day,” Grimaldo said Monday evening as he put up ribbons, just as he has done annually — even after his graduation in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science. The ribbon project "looks really nice and it brings attention to veterans issues," he said.

Other volunteers Monday evening included members of Grimaldo’s co-ed professional prelaw fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta. “A lot of the students helping out are not veterans, but they’re helping out because they understand the significance of the ribbons on the trees,” Grimaldo said.

Medina said veterans often begin their educational journey at UC Davis with a visit to the TRV Center and a meeting with Yolanda Torres, Department of Veterans Affairs certifying official. “Yolanda meets with each student regarding their educational benefits, talks them through the certifying process, and keeps close and continual contact with them all the way through graduation,” Medina said.

Torres has been working with veterans at UC Davis for some 20 years.

“I’m in awe of them, I’m humbled by them, what they have done for our country,” she said. “We’re in a total volunteer military, and they are the 1 percent of our population who raise their hands to say, ‘I will go.’ And they come back to school, and they’re always so appreciative of everything that I do for them, and it just humbles me. It’s like I cannot do enough for you.”

Among her duties, she ensures student veterans are getting the government money they are entitled to. “And that’s so important for them, because they count on their money to live on,” said Torres, who also works with dependents to whom veterans benefits have been transferred.

Veterans office on the move

The TRV Center where she works will soon lose its “V” — when veterans services move to an office all their own in the Memorial Union.

“And that’s exactly where veterans services should be,” said Victor Garcia, an eight-year Army veteran who came to UC Davis as a transfer student, graduated in 2010 and now works as a TRV adviser.

The Memorial Union is the right place, he explained, because the building is a memorial to Aggies lost in war, and the repository of the university’s Golden Memory Book, which holds the stories of each of those 135 fallen Aggies.

Space for the veterans services office has been allocated in the Memorial Union renovation and expansion that is expected to get underway around the end of March and last for 18 months. The new veterans center will be on the second floor.

Services for veterans, transfer students and re-entry students include professional staff advising, one-on-one peer advising, campus referrals, networking opportunities and Success Strategy courses, along with coffee groups, weekly meet-ups and workshops relevant to the three constituent groups.

Beyond all that, veterans “find a spot that is near and dear to their hearts — with peers that understand where you’re coming from,” Grimaldo said.

The veteran connection

Veterans are “always looking for a way to connect,” Grimaldo added.

Staff member Kendra Marsh, a nine-year Army veteran, ties a bow.

Political science major Maria Liranzo, an Army Reservist who served in Kuwait and Iraq, and who has been studying at UC Davis since 2011, agreed: “It’s nice to have that connection at such a large school.

“The transition back is always hard,” Liranzo added as she and Garrett Wilkerson tied another ribbon. “Because a lot of people don’t understand or relate to the military experience, so (the center is) kind of comforting.”

Wilkerson, an Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, started his studies at UC Davis last summer and quickly found himself at the TRV Center with a problem: The transfer student had been dropped from his classes because of a name mix-up involving another student.

“Yolanda got it straightened out and I got a job in the process,” said Wilkerson, an English major who’s a student employee at the center and happy to “be a full part of the community.”

Another member of the ribbon crew, Joseph Wetherbee, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Japan, also works at the center. “I get such great benefits for education, that I wanted to help out in return," said Wetherbee, a senior who is double-majoring in philosophy and history.

No need to go it alone

Garcia, the TRV adviser, recalled how he struggled his first quarter as a student at UC Davis. “A lot of it (had to do with) just being a transfer student, but a lot of it was the environment that I was coming from (the military) … where I was taught to be self-reliant, taught to adapt and overcome obstacles, taught to not ask for help, because you’re supposed to be able to pull your weight, in the unit, in the service — and not being able to do so means that you’re a liability to the team, and nobody wants to be a liability, especially in situations such as the conflicts that we are in now.

“And so I found myself here trying to do things on my own, trying to find resources here on my own, trying to navigate the system that is the UC, trying to navigate finding the right help without asking for help, because I felt this need to be able to do it on my own.”

He had already met veterans services staff at transfer orientation, and he took up Torres on her offer to not only use the center’s services, but to work there, too, as a student. Which he did until he graduated in 2010.

“I really do think that if I hadn’t done that, I don’t know if I’d be here right now. I think there’s a good chance that I probably would have struggled some more.”

He graduated on a Friday, and the next Monday went to work as regular staff at the center. “I love being able to share my experiences with our incoming veterans, so that they don’t have to go through some of those struggles that I went through.”

Dateline UC Davis writer Cody Kitaura contributed to this report.

Resources

TRV Center (transfer students, re-entry students, veterans)

Veterans services

Davis Student Veteran Organization

UC Davis Veteran Constituency Group (for students, staff and faculty)

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

 

 

 

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu

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