Leave no man behind.
It’s a well-known, guiding philosophy for soldiers both on and off the battlefield.
Civilian life isn’t always easy either, and that’s where the Veterans of West Virginia University are determined to make a difference.
Their main focus is fellow veterans who’ve returned to school and may need help adjusting to academia.
Reaching out is important since this kind of educational pressure is new for many, and student vets don’t always know how to ask for help.
“As members of the military we are used to just putting our head down and getting the job done with the resources we have to deal with,” said Zachary Bailey, 26, who spent four years in the Marine Corps and is now the group leader of Veterans of WVU.
But there’s no use for them to reinvent the wheel when we’ve already been there, and know how to handle some of their questions.”
Organization members range in age and years of military service, and that’s also true for veterans who have returned to get a degree.
“We have roughly 550 actual veterans who receive these benefits, but there are some other veterans on campus who aren’t using the GI Bill so they aren’t recognized in the student veteran numbers,” he said.
Understanding GI Bill benefits is important, and helps vets get needed classes.
Bailey would like to see even more campus resources available to veterans, and likes that other colleges have dedicated veteran centers offering needed expertise and resources.
Sometimes other personal issues take precedent.
Bailey recalls how group members came together to help a homeless veteran.
“All for one, one for all. That is how it is,” he said. “Our priority is being here for our veterans.”
Campus life matters too.
Mountaineer football games mean tailgating and camaraderie.
Learning about each other is part of the group’s mission, especially when it comes to better appreciate where fellow vets have served, said Samuel Bearinger.
Now a junior, he is pursuing a forestry degree after having left the Marines in 2014.
It’s still important to him to be with other veterans, and the campus organization helps him do that.
Neither he nor other club members will forget a World War II veteran who recently visited the Morgantown campus.
Navy Lt. Jim Downing, the second oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, was honored as part of the university’s ongoing 150th anniversary celebration.
Downing, who is 104 years old, was aboard the USS West Virginia when Japanese forces attacked and has since written a book about his military experience.
Organization members joined others Nov. 3 for a ceremony in front of Oglebay Hall where the ship’s mast and bill are permanently displayed.
The beloved landmark is important, and a new preservation effort is underway.
Fundraising, including a rifle raffle, is already being done to help enlist professional help in this historic preservation effort which may cost an estimated $10,000.
It’s hoped this restoration project can be finished in time for next year’s Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor observances.
Ripley native Andrew Chancey comes from a family where military service is a tradition.
He went into the service immediately after high school, and recently became a student after having spent nine years in the Marines.
Part of his service included a multi-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
He is now pursuing a business/marketing degree, but hasn’t forgotten his military roots and works at the Morgantown Veteran’s Center.
It’s part of a work study program that allows him to meet, hang out with and talk to older veterans.
Giving back to them is important, and he’s also looking forward to seeing more done for veterans at WVU.
It also makes sense given the state’s long history of its residents being in the military.
“I have always heard that we have the largest number of veterans per capita of any state in the country. And we also had the highest number of Vietnam vets. There are so many people in this area that are veterans, and we need to be here for each other,” he said.
“We don’t want you to feel alone, because you’re not.”
Having a post-military plan and being around other veterans makes college much easier.
Navy veteran Kirstyn Murphy was originally from Sandusky, Ohio, and came to WVU after having met her husband in Norfolk.
He was a state native, and they met on an aircraft carrier with approximately 5,000 people aboard it, she said.
“I chose the Navy because I really like the water, and I wanted to see more of the world,” she said.
Family members were happily surprised with her success, and that her duties included launching and recovering aircraft.
She’s hoping to become an occupational therapist, and is happy to now be in Morgantown.
“We found out about this organization when they had a booth at an event, plus they had a Facebook page and also started sending out emails.”
Lately she’s been involved in fundraising efforts to repair the mast.
“It’s a way to honor the Word War II Navy veteran who was just here, as well as all of the other veterans on campus and in West Virginia. I really think a lot of other people in the community will also want to help or donate once they know about this project.”