USD Encourages Veteran Heroes to Share Stories, Journey

USD Encourages Veteran Heroes to Share Stories, Journey

Honoring military service is the order of the day when Veterans Day occurs in November. It's a staple around the country to celebrate all brave men and women for their service. Last Friday afternoon at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice's Garden of the Sky, the University of San Diego’s event was an opportunity to encourage military-connected students and alumni to share their stories.


Amanda Etter, director of USD's Military and Veterans Program (MVP) and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, coordinated a theme, "Our Stories, Our Journeys," she said was inspired by author Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell had studied hero myths from around the world and stated that a hero's journey is a cycle. The journey begins and ends in the ordinary world, but often the hero is called to be part of something extraordinary.

Etter had sought out her student population to submit stories of their service and experiences through their respective branch, regardless if they are active duty, veterans, retirees, ROTC or family members. Faculty, staff and alumni who have military ties were also encouraged to submit.

Following presentation of the colors, USD sophomore student Mary-Logan Miske singing the national anthem and the invocation by USD Minister Gino Correa, OFM, Etter introduced USD President James T. Harris. His praise for Campbell as an author was followed by shining a light on Simon Sandoval, a USD student who is graduating in May.

Sandoval, a retired Marine whose medals worn proudly on his uniform was a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, was praised by President Harris for his military commitment, his academic achievement, his presence and a few bonding moments he recalled during a University Ministry-hosted Men's Retreat that Harris and Sandoval both attended last fall.

Etter then introduced keynote speaker, Derek Abbey, PhD, a double USD graduate alumnus, former director of the USD veteran’s student program and now president and CEO of Project Recover. A retired Marine and a first-generation college graduate with three degrees, Abbey's life of service to his country, his work helping student veterans in higher education and the work he does with Project Recover, makes his story a role model for other veterans.

Abbey, whose post-military career has included leadership roles at USD, with the Travis Manion Foundation, San Diego State University's military veterans’ program and the new role for Project Recover, has shown his ability to make a successful career transition from military officer to academia and now confidently in a role to make an impact for others.

With an hourglass of sand resting on the podium as he spoke, one of Abbey's key points was to remind the many veterans present that "everyone who served has come home with an elixir," harkening back to Campbell’s hero’s journey and encouraging them that the present time is the right time to make an impact.

"I challenge you all to have that conversation," Abbey said. "With that elixir, what will you do in the next phase of your career?”

Bryon Cohea, a five-year Marine veteran, a mechanical engineering student and the current USD Student Veteran Organization (SVO) president, told a brief story about his decision to stay back in Afghanistan when he had an opportunity to go and pay his respects to a fellow officer.

Another who stepped up and went to the podium to share his thoughts, was Shaun Morand, a retired Army veteran who is actively writing his memoir. Wearing a hat that said "Word Nerd," a camouflage shirt with the letters PMA on the front and Positive Mental Attitude on the back, tattoos everywhere, including Word Nerd on his knuckles. Morand read an excerpt from his memoir sharing his reaction to the events of 9/11 and how it inspired him to enroll in the military. He attended community college and has transferred to USD and is loving what he’s doing with his life. Writing is his passion.

When Etter returned to the podium, she honored all military-connected people in the audience by having them stand up when their respective military branch's fight song was played. Etter then supported Abbey's earlier challenge.

She plans to spend much of the next year collecting stories from the student veteran population and wants to make it a centerpiece of the November 2020 Veterans Day event celebration. She plans to create an exhibit so everyone present will be able to engage with it and appreciate.

"It's time to change the narrative," Etter said. "It’s time to talk about the stories, the successes and about our diverse lived experiences."

— Ryan T. Blystone

To learn more about contributing your military story, contact Amanda Etter at


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