By Kevin Stupfel/ Veteran’s Outreach Center
Students have it rather easy. They can pretty much do what they want, when they want to. Do they truly have to study? No— they can choose not to, but there are obvious consequences. Do they have to attend class or show up to work on time? No, they don’t. It’s not illegal to partake in this lack of activity. The normal student lives following the city, state, and national laws and tries to stay under the radar as much as possible. This freedom that they take for granted as college students is something that strikes me as bizarre. As we walk from class to class, fumbling with our iPods or cell phones, there walks among us men and women who do not live under these codes of conduct. These students who are co-participants in both the academics of Western and the defense of our country have tasted what it is like to live without freedom and now have a new sense to what true sacrifice is.
Surprisingly enough there are actually veteran students at Western and also students currently serving in the Reserve and National Guard. Some have gone to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan while others have followed their order to stay home. They do this for many reasons. Some have simply answered the call to serve something larger than themselves, even if it means the giving of their life. Others possibly have enlisted for the college money, knowing full well that they will give up what rights they have previously taken for granted as civilians. Enlisted students live life one month at a time, not knowing when their order will be processed and sent to them stating the government’s intentions. They have 30 days or less to pack what they need, plan for a deferment, and start their 3 month training session so then their 12 to 18 months deployment can start.
We do not see this reality as unfair or immoral. No one forced us to enlist and we like to keep it that way for our current generation and others to come. We are not looking for pity or even understanding. It is clear that it is not the student soldier who marches in the streets or protests in Red Square. The life of a student soldier is simple— let us study and serve, but once in a while recognize that we have chosen to give up our rights so others don’t have to, either from an imposed draft or from a foreign enemy.
In three days, we as a University will celebrate Veterans Day, although the actual national holiday is the following day. We celebrate the sacrifice of past and present veterans. Although we mourn the fallen and give our respects, we ultimately rejoice in the fact that this country produces such selfless, service oriented individuals.
With a speech from a combat veteran who served 16 months in Iraq, poetry, and time to truly think, this year’s ceremony will be an event to attend no matter where you stand on the war or in the political spectrum. You can hate George Bush and the current war with every fiber of your nascent mind, but to simultaneously lie down and sleep under the blanket of rights that your fellow student soldier provides by their voluntary service seems like a crooked way to live ones life. Not attending the ceremony is a choice you have and there are valid reasons why people cannot attend, but protesting the war and its purpose is not one of them.
I talked to an Iraq war veteran the other day and he simply said that as he approaches his third year-long tour in Iraq he would prefer to return to that desert of carnage and butchery so another service member can either stay at or come home. That is what sacrifice is about, and it is exactly that for which we will celebrate and honor this Thursday.
Western will be holding a Veterans Day ceremony in the VU Multipurpose room at 5 p.m. The ceremony will be free and open to the public.