The second annual forum for Portland State’s Student Veterans Association closed with a slideshow showing soldiers on active duty overseas riding in tanks, patrolling territory and walking through dusty, war-torn streets. But while these pictures give a glimpse into the day-to-day life of a soldier, they also express a message that spans far beyond a military career–one of camaraderie and community. This is the message Jake Meeks, the president of the Student Veterans Association, wants to convey.
The second annual forum for Portland State’s Student Veterans Association closed with a slideshow showing soldiers on active duty overseas riding in tanks, patrolling territory and walking through dusty, war-torn streets.
But while these pictures give a glimpse into the day-to-day life of a soldier, they also express a message that spans far beyond a military career–one of camaraderie and community.
This is the message Jake Meeks, the president of the Student Veterans Association, wants to convey.
The question and answer-style forum, held yesterday in Smith Memorial Student Union, was designed to help foster and increase a sense of community among veterans. With Veterans Day having been on Monday, the event was also meant to bridge the gap between veterans and non-veterans on campus, Meeks said.
“It’s about us connecting with everybody,” he said.
Meeks moderated the event alongside eight veteran panelists, all of whom shared personal experiences and answered questions about issues related to veterans and the military.
Questions ranged from the morality of orders given to soldiers to the often-lukewarm homecomings. They also spoke about psychological issues, and feelings of separation from society, veterans face upon returning home from active duty.
Panelist Jonathan Sanford, who served in Iraq, said once he was ordered to shoot a man who was suspected to be carrying a bomb, but was actually just a pair of speakers.
“I didn’t [follow the orders],” Sanford said. “I took responsibility for it.”
If you have to justify any order morally, he said, you don’t do it.
“If you just thought about detainees as terrorists, it would be even harder to give them the aid they need,” said Daniel Standridge, who provided medical care to detainees in Iraq.
Panelist Zack Bucharest said that if his experiences serving in the military have taught him anything, it is that people are the same no matter where you are.
“People want to live their life,” said Bucharest, who served in conflicts both in Lebanon and in the Middle East. “Nine out of ten people I met were just like me.”
“You can relate so much,” added panelist Jordan Walbridge, who served in Afghanistan. “They have the same problems, the same issues–you want to demonize the other side so bad. Then you get to know these people and you care about them a lot.”
One of the problems that led to people’s misconceptions about how the military operates is often because of the way information is portrayed by politicians or the media, Bucharest said.
Standridge said this sort of attitude can be damaging to veterans returning home.
“I came home last October on leave, and when I landed in Texas, the fire department was there, shooting water onto the plane. People there would shake your hand,” Standridge said. “In Oregon, when I got to off the plane, some people wouldn’t even look at me. It’s a totally different world out here.”
Walbridge said he once was in a small confrontation with a man at the Portland airport. “He looked me straight in the eye and asked me, ‘What’s it like to kill a baby’s daddy?'”
Meeks said many veterans have problems going back to school and re-establishing themselves into society. Since Portland State didn’t have any resources for veterans, he decided to start the Student Veterans Association.
“The Student Veterans Association is a good idea because there’s more people coming back now,” Meeks said.
These veterans need help, he said, and the association gives them a place where they can relate with other people who have undergone the same sorts of experiences.
“In the army, everyone is a brother,” Standridge said. “Here, people aren’t outgoing. In the group, I don’t have to worry about what I say.”
Overall, Meeks said he hopes that events such as the forum and the veterans association itself will help to create more communication and less misunderstanding among veterans and non-veterans at PSU.
“People are people,” Walbridge said. “Love a soldier.”
–Additional reporting by Stover E. Harger III