In an effort to help veterans returning from leave, the Veterans Resource Center celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, September 10 at the Estill building.
Located on the first floor, the center is considered a “one-stop shop” for any returning veteran trying to return to college.
“We’ve been told that nearly two million veterans will return from Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is imperative that we provide them with a welcome to our university,” said Dr. James Gaertner, SHSU President.
Upon entering the ribbon-cutting ceremony, chairs were strategically placed in order, allowing veterans attending the event to have a seat up front and center.
Of the many notable veterans at the ceremony, none stood out more than M.B Etheredge, an SHSU alumni.
“I’d also like to give a special recognition to a very special veteran who is with us today. A gentleman who was a true hero. I mean in the true sense of the word a hero,” Dr. Gaertner said.
After graduating from then Sam Houston State Teacher’s College in 1937, Etheredge spent his time teaching, eventually becoming a principal before joining the many men in World War II.
Etheredge is one of the few World War II soldiers to receive three Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. Even more intriguing is that Etheredge fought along side and befriended fellow Third Infantry member Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier of World War II.
After the playing of the National Anthem by the SHSU School of Music, Dr. Gaertner then proceeded to describe the overall goal of the center.
“This center is really, as we see it, an extension of our culture,” Dr. Gaertner said. “We have a culture at Sam Houston that has always been a welcoming and supporting culture, and we need to provide special support to these wonderful people who have served our country so well.”
With the War in Iraq, and another possible war in Afghanistan looming, it is understood that some members in the Armed Forces attending college will have to take a leave in order to fulfill their duty. Dr. Gaertner helped to give a more detailed look on this matter.
“We have over 10,000 veterans in a six-county region surrounding Sam Houston State University with many more returning over the next two years,” Dr. Gaertner said. “Currently at Sam Houston, we have 461 veterans enrolled in our university.”
Upon sharing this statistic, Dr. Gaertner then told the audience the ultimate purpose of the Veterans Resource Center.
“Some of the services that we’ll provide in this center are admissions information, post GI bill resources, transfer credits, student organizations for veterans, new student organizations for veterans, assistance for registration, peer assessments, and counseling services. All of these things will be provided in our Veterans Resource Center,” Dr. Gaertner said.
Dr. Gaertner then told of future plans for veterans at SHSU.
“In the future, we’ll have a SAM 136 course, which is an introductory course to the university that will be for veterans taught by veterans, and we expect to have that operational in the Spring of 2010,” Dr. Gaertner said. “We will also have a lounge in our LSC, our Lowman Student Center, to honor our veterans. So we have things that are going to happen immediately, and some things that are in the works to provide a welcoming atmosphere for these people who served our country so well.”
Fellow speaker, Colonel John McManners, expressed his thankfulness to SHSU for the opening of the center.
“To Dr. Gaertner and Dr. Crowson, thank you for your leadership and personal involvement in getting this center up and running,” McManners said. “Sam Houston State now leads the way in Texas and the Southwest to assist our veterans in higher education. Here, locally, our own National Guard unit will be mobilized this fall and they will deploy for a year, and when they return, several thousand people just centered right here in East Texas will be added to those with full GI benefits, and we want them to come to Sam Houston State.”
Ultimately, the Veterans Resource Center at SHSU is one of the few outlets to veterans in many universities. By creating the center, it enables past and present veterans to continue their quest for higher education should they choose to.
“This is a very special and unique operation for us,” Dr. Gaertner said. “We’re very, very proud that we’re able to do this for these very, very special people.”