The flag representing the United States of America flies prominently each day on the University of San Diego campus.
On Friday, as the nation celebrates all military personnel for Veterans Day, one of the best on-campus displays of the symbolic Stars and Stripes will be found on the grass area in front of the Hahn University Center. It’s here where approximately 500 small flags will be present and so will Travis Weger and members of USD’s newly created Student Veteran Organization (SVO).
“Our goal is to have people come by, we’ll hand them a yellow ribbon and ask them to pledge their support to a veteran and we’ll place the ribbon next to each flag,” said Weger, the organization’s founding president.
The estimated number of 500 accounts for USD students, staff, faculty and administrators who are military veterans or veteran dependents and beneficiaries, Weger said.
“The key thing is to raise awareness,” said the eight-year Navy veteran of the SVO’s event and about the organization’s on-campus presence. “A few years ago there weren’t a lot of student veterans, but the number has increased and we want to make sure we’re represented properly and have an active voice within the community and with USD students.”
The SVO has more than 35 club members since its creation in September. It also has a Facebook page and the SVO is looking into having a designated veteran center on campus. Though the organization’s by-laws state that its president and vice president must be military veterans, Weger said the SVO welcomes all students to join, regardless if they’ve served or not.
The current SVO executive board has military veterans in every position except for Alex Skrbin, its director of events. The other board members and their military affiliation are Jay Winn (Vice President, Marines), Heidi Miller (Chief Executive Officer, Navy and Army), James Gregoire (Secretary, Navy), Matthew Knight (Treasurer, Navy), Mike Vasquez (Vice President/Interclub Council Coordinator, Marines) and Scott Marcus (NROTC liaison, Navy).
“We’ve had no problems finding supporters for what we’re doing and no problems setting up the organization,” Weger said.
The university has showed its support for veterans through academic offerings, programs, being a home base for the San Diego Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps since 1982, and, in the case of USD’s Engineering Programs, specific grant funding to recruit more undergraduate student veterans to campus and its program. Financially supportive programs and resources for military veterans make a USD education affordable.
Other signs of support come from tonight’s recognition event hosted by the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, a “Salute to Heroes and Healers” reception for military students, faculty, alumni and friends. Some of USD’s highest-level administrators have extensive military backgrounds, including President Mary E. Lyons, a 25-year U.S. Naval Reserve Officer who retired in 1996 with the rank of captain; and Len Hering, vice president for Business Services and Administration, who retired as a Navy Admiral following a 32-year career.
There’s also support from USD employees such as Scott Handley, an admissions counselor, Veteran and Military Programs Liaison and a Navy veteran.
“It’s an exciting time to be a veteran at USD,” said Handley (pictured above right, with Weger and Winn). “As a veteran, USD alumnus, current USD graduate student, USD employee and advisor to the SVO, I’m incredibly proud of what Travis and the other SVO leaders have accomplished in such a short period of time. USD student veterans now have a united voice on campus. With the continued support of USD faculty, administration and staff, we will have a strong presence on our campus for the foreseeable future.”
Weger (pictured, at left) is on active reserve duty while he’s wrapping up his degree in communication studies and a minor in business marketing in May. The 29-year-old’s military experience includes time spent overseas, much of it humanitarian-based work. He was stationed in Japan for nearly four years, but was deployed to the North Arabian Gulf off the coast of Iraq. He served in units that delivered ambulances to Zamboanga in the Philippines and he was among the first to aid a village’s recovery from landslides in 2006 by rebuilding community schools and painting churches.
Weger returned to the U.S. three years ago, working in Point Loma with the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 1 to simulate search training for underwater mines by using dolphins. Currently, Weger is working with a Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training unit. He’s certainly enjoyed his time Navy and the experiences that go with it. He’s just as passionate to help other veterans that are attending educational institutions. He and a friend created a veteran organization when both attended San Diego Mesa Community College and now has 250 members.
Since transferring to USD in Fall 2010, Weger has an equally active student life. He’s the Associated Students’ director of public affairs, USDtv’s director of public relations, a member of the Beta Sigma pledge class, historian for the professional business chapter Alpha Kappa Psi and a member of the Torero Days’ Transfer Student T-Squad this fall.
Weger’s not shy about getting involved. He’s hopeful, too, that other military veterans considering college or those already on campus will follow his lead.
“The motivation for transfer students, non-traditional students and commuter students, and I know because I’m all three of these, is that it’s never too late to get involved. It’s the best way to get to know other people,” he said. “Taken from firsthand experience, the more you get involved, the more you’re going to love it and the more you’ll get out of it.”
— Ryan T. Blystone