Duke Salutes its Vets

This week, the nation will observe Veterans Day, a day on which we thank, honor, and remember all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. In celebration of this holiday, we thought it fitting to dedicate a post to our student veterans by highlighting the program that helps them attend Duke, the value they add to the classroom, and their post-Duke accomplishments.  Duke is proud of its vets and we thank them for their service.

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Called the “patriots who have kept us whole” by President Barack Obama, veterans are the men and women who answered the call of duty, and — due to the draw-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — are a growing part of the nation’s population.

At Duke, veteran students and their dependents are also a rapidly growing group — in fact, they are the fastest growing group on campus. Over the past five years, the number of these students has grown more than 400 percent across the University’s undergraduate and nine professional and graduate schools.

Behind this increase lies what Duke’s associate vice-president for federal relations, Chris Simmons, calls a “classic example” of a partnership between the federal government and the nation’s colleges and universities to do “what is right and what is needed:” the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

[Read the full op-ed that appeared in the Herald-Sun here]

The post-9/11 G.I. Bill, signed into law in 2008, offers a wide range of benefits for veterans with a variety of education goals. It has provided $40 billion in funding for the education of more than 1 million beneficiaries. In addition, the bill established the Yellow Ribbon program, designed to make private colleges more accessible to veteran applicants. At Duke, we provide these special scholarships to veterans to say thank you for their service to our nation, and also because we believe having veterans in our classrooms and laboratories improves the education and teaching environment for our entire campus.

“A lot of veterans were thrust into situations where leadership really matters,” said Tommy Sowers (T ’98), a former Veterans’ Administration official and assistant director of the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy. “They have a rich, real world experience, in that many were working in developing countries and had to face the complexities of policy on the ground.”

Those experiences add an “unbelievable value” to the university community, says Clay Adams, associate dean of students with the Office of Student Affairs (OSAF). And through outreach, programming, and support, Adams says OSAF works to make Duke a campus that “embraces the value of military service and contributes to the diverse world-view of the student body.”

But why choose Duke? Many veterans tell Adams they are attracted by Duke’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. They see as an opportunity to build upon the practical skills they have from their service with academic training.

This was true for Paul Escajadillo, who served seven and a half years in the U.S. Special Operations and is now a second year MBA candidate at the Fuqua School of Business. In his classes, Escajadillo brings first-hand experience of how cultures can be different but still operate together. In return, he’s discovered a program that allows him to leverage his leadership skills in an atmosphere that mirrors the team-based approach he saw in the Army.

“Everyone, everyday lives out the ‘Team Fuqua’ concept,” Escajadillo said. “I’m blessed to be around the best and the brightest of my generation, and to strive to keep up with them.”

Escajadillo also brings this team-based approach to the Graduate and Professional Student Council, where he serves as Attorney General. In his first year, Escajadillo partnered with the Duke University Stores and the Office of Student Affairs to establish a program that gives one veteran per school a $100 gift certificate to use to purchase textbooks, a cost not covered by the G.I. funds.

And once they graduate, Duke veterans continue to impact our nation and support their teams — like Eric Greitens (T ’96), who started the non-profit, The Mission Continues, an organization that awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans. [Click here to read about the seven Duke alumni military veterans who participated in the Freedom 500, a 500-mile run from the Duke Chapel to the World Trade Center with a stop in Washington, D.C. to raise money and awareness for The Mission Continues.] Another alumnus, Gen. Martin Dempsey, is currently serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  And let’s not forget the hundreds of faculty and staff who have served and are now a part of the Duke community.

During this Veteran’s Day week, take a moment to say thank you to our veterans – for their service and for their contributions to our country and our campus.