There are more than 350 of them on campus; students walk by them every day not knowing that they are there.
These are the people who signed up to serve their country no matter what that cost might be; they are the veterans of the United States military.
A couple of determined veterans formed the GCC Veterans Association this semester with the help of their veterans’ certified official, adviser and fellow veteran, Charles Shumate.
“We wanted to start this a while back and it was just finding the veterans who wanted to get it started,” Shumate said. “But the thing is a lot of veterans don’t want to be noticed or put out there like that.”
Kristel Vear, the vice president of the club, said that Shumate “got the ball rolling” after a couple of veterans asked him if there was a club or somewhere they could go to connect.
Vear served in the Army for eight years as a logistical specialist and left the military two years ago as a sergeant. “We want to let veterans know, ‘Hey, there’s a place for you, there’s a place for you to get help and you’re not alone,’” Vear said.
Thomas Wales, the president of the club, was one of the veterans who helped create the club. “The major goal is to make life as easy for veterans coming here as possible,” said Wales. “In the short term, that means we are driving for funding to open a veterans resource center on campus.”
Shumate said that the main reason why GCC doesn’t currently have a veterans resource center on campus is because of the lack of funding. Although there isn’t funding for a resource center, there is a good amount of campus support for veterans.
“Every department chips in for services for the vets on campus,” Shumate said. He went on to explain that there is also a panel on campus that meets once or twice a month to discuss different veterans’ issues and what they can do to make everything more comfortable for veterans on campus.
Shumate and Vear said that the main obstacle in recruiting members for the club is that most veterans don’t like attention. “A lot of veterans are reserved,” Vear said. “We aren’t going to ask for help very often.”
This is why the GCC Veterans Association is going to start to have more events. “We want to have events on campus for the veterans so that we can get them all together so they can know there are other vets on campus,” said Shumate.
Wales, a Navy veteran who served for six years, explained that the club is about exchanging information, but also about providing support. “It’s our goal to help veterans and any veteran on campus that needs any type of help whether it’s with school, or finding a job, or they need somebody to talk to or that they need healthcare, they should come and find us and we will do our very best to meet their needs,” “We are here to support.”
Vear said that once veterans have a safe space to meet, it is easy to connect. “Once you’ve served in the military, regardless of what branch or what you’ve done, there that bond that is, ‘hey I did this, I served my country.’ It’s almost like an instant friend.”
As a veteran who saw combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and was stationed in South Korea, Vear said that providing support for other veterans is a crucial part of the agenda of the club.
“It’s good knowing that they’re coming back alive, but it’s hard, it’s very very difficult to adjust. If you’ve seen combat or if you have post-traumatic stress disorder it’s a struggle to come back and integrate into society when you’ve been through trauma that you can’t relate to other people.”
For now, the GCC Veterans Association provides help for other veterans in the form of emotional and educational support, but hopes that eventually there will be a veterans resource center created on campus so that they can have their own space where all the resources and support systems are centralized.
For the upcoming holiday season, the club has cards for people to fill out if they want to send one to a service man or woman to let them know that they are appreciated.
The GCC Veterans Association’s next meeting is Monday at 12:30 p.m. in the Student Center.
The association can be contacted on Facebook at GCC Veterans Association or by email at [email protected]