Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications
Campus supports staff member’s squadron during deployment in Afghanistan
The UC San Diego Veterans Association has adopted a platoon to support active military currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Ronnie McClean, a staff member at the Shiley Eye Center, is a member of the platoon selected, the 451 ELRS Squadron currently in Kandahar Provence in Afghanistan. McClean will be deployed until April, and UC San Diego is showing its support for him and the other 24 members of his squadron by sending them care packages. Already, the Veterans Association has collected more than 600 pounds of goods and raised over $450 in funds to will help pay for shipping.
As the U.S. scales back military activities in the area, McClean and his comrades are working 12- to 14-hour shifts to move materials and staff out of the region. Commissaries, base exchanges and other military facilities that are typically available are closing, or are already closed, while this effort is underway.
Richard Gilbert is a student veteran at UC San Diego who was deployed twice to Iraq as a sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps. On his second deployment, he was wounded and placed in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Balboa Naval Hospital. After being medically retired from the Marine Corps, Gilbert took classes at Mesa Community College and eventually transferred to UC San Diego where he served as president of the Student Veteran Organization for two years.
“As a veteran at UC San Diego, it can be a challenge to connect with other students because veterans like me tend to be older and have more life experience,” he said. But for Gilbert, a senior major in communications, and other student veterans that is all about to change.
Today, the campus will salute current and retired military service men and women from 11 to 11:30 a.m. with the dedication of the campus’s new Student Veterans Resource Center (SVRC). The event, which will commemorate Veterans Day for the campus, is free and open to the public and will take place on the west side of the UC San Diego Student Center.
UC San Diego currently has 251students who are veterans and active duty military, up from 221 last year. The UC San Diego Student Veterans Resource Center was established to support the campus’s growing student veteran population by providing opportunities for students to connect with groups and resources.
“At UC San Diego, we are committed to supporting our student veterans,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “These men and women have served our nation and they bring diverse life experiences and perspectives to our campus, and that’s part of what makes UC San Diego an exceptional institution.”
Located on the 2nd floor of the Student Center, the Student Veterans Resource Center includes 1,600 square feet of lounge, meeting, office and kitchen space. A full-time staff member will provide support services to student veterans in this location. Following the UC San Diego Veterans Ceremony, free tours of the center will be offered, guided by UC San Diego’s student veterans.
According to Dennis Garland, president of UC San Diego’s Student Veteran Organization, the establishment of the Student Veterans Resource Center was made possible through a collaborative effort among student and staff veterans and campus leadership.
“I feel very fortunate to have so many dedicated and passionate people on campus that are willing to step up for student veterans,” said the Muir College senior. “It will be great to have a physical place on campus so that we can continue to foster a sense of community and inclusion. The center will provide a place for student veterans to meet and talk, giving them a place to interact with other people that have similar experiences while easing their way into the UC San Diego community.”
The 451 ELRS Squadron.
As part of the dedication event, the 14th annual Veteran of the Year award will be presented by the UC San Diego Veterans Association. The Veteran of the Year for 2013 is Billiekai Boughton. Boughton served as chair of the Veterans Association for two and a half years, representing veterans on campus and was one of the individuals instrumental in getting the Student Veterans Resource Center established at UC San Diego. Boughton served as a Switching Systems Operator team lead in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1992, where she provided telecommunications and radio support during operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. At UC San Diego, she is an executive assistant at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.
“I am both honored and proud to receive recognition for the work I have done at UC San Diego on behalf of our veteran population,” Boughton said. “It is one of my greatest joys to be part of an institution that allows me to pay forward my gratitude with such depth, intention and impact.”
Gilbert, who also will be honored as an outstanding veteran student, said today’s event will especially be memorable because it reinforces what has been the slogan for the Student Veteran Organization since he first became president in 2011, which is ‘veterans helping veterans.’
“It’s an honor to be acknowledged for my efforts supporting the veteran community here at UC San Diego,” said Gilbert. “Student veterans are incredibly involved. In my time at UC San Diego, I have seen the Student Veteran Organization really evolve, to become much more involved in the lives of the veterans on campus and more involved with the campus in general. Our team of student veterans is highly dedicated and motivated to serving our country and community.”
Student veteran Richard Gilbert stands outside the campus’s new Student Veterans Resource Center
As a result of increased outreach efforts, the campus has seen an increase in the number of students who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, UC San Diego was ranked among the top 15 percent of the nation’s military-friendly schools by G. I. Jobs magazine for embracing veterans as students. The results are based on university initiatives to assist student veterans including: financial aid benefits, additional support to the campus’ Student Veteran Organization, special orientations for new student veterans and early enrollment privileges.
Garland added that having a full-time staff person at the Student Veterans Resource Center to serve as a point-of-contact for student veterans from the point they enter the university, throughout their academic program and beyond will help build upon UC San Diego’s efforts to support student veterans.
For more information on the Student Veterans Resource Center, go here.
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