Veteran's Day: Inspiring With Courage

Kealii Kalawao-Cummings stands beside a colleague outside as the American and Marine Corps flags stand tall, and a cake lies flat on the table.
Jared Libby

Every year on Nov. 11, we honor the individuals who sacrificed their lives in service to this country we call home. It’s not only a remembrance of what one percent of Americans were willing to give but a celebration of the veterans who are still here with us today. At TMCC, we have the privilege of providing quality higher education to student veterans who are either actively serving in some branch of the National Guard or taking advantage of their rightfully earned compensation to help pay for their schooling and acquire a degree or certificate.

Our commitment to improving them personally and professionally reflects consideration of their time in the military, and there is no easy transition from being in a combat theater for months to a peaceful, repetitive, and conventional existence as a returning United States citizen. These are the invisible battles veterans often have with themselves. As we take a moment to show respect for the fallen, learn to empathize with the internal struggles facing those who bear that weight. There are those in our community who genuinely care and listen. On this thoughtful day, our institution is one of healing, reverence, and pride for those within our ranks who represent the ideals and liberties of democracy.

We Don’t Know Them All, but We Owe Them All

Miniature American stand tall in the grass to honor the TMCC veteran population.

Miniature American flags stand tall in the grass to honor the TMCC veteran population.

If you’ve walked through the Dandini Campus plaza, you’ve seen the several hundred red, white, and blue flags planted firmly in the grass outside. Blanketed by crisp, golden orange leaves, a prominent sign in front reads, “These flags represent our Veteran population here at TMCC. We thank you for your service.” It is a meaningful tribute to the noble people who yielded civilian lifestyles to achieve personal discipline, a sense of duty, and an exclusive skill for their occupational specialty in the armed forces. While the U.S. colors ripple gently in the wind, passersby can acknowledge our salute to the brave souls, past and present, who swore an oath to support and defend the U.S. and Nevada Constitutions from all foreign and domestic enemies.

While many spend this day sizzling hot dogs and burgers on the grill, a cold drink with dewy trickles down their hands, playing cornhole with friends, and inviting a feeling of fraternity, TMCC inspired togetherness differently through a commemorative event on Nov. 9. Hosted by the Veteran Services Office, friends, family, and colleagues gathered to observe the Marine Corps’ 248th Birthday.

The American and Marine Corps flags stood heavenward, pointing to the clear blue sky above with the memory of fallen brothers and sisters imbued within the oak that held them sturdy. A cake adorned with the stars and stripes lay flat on the table, Mameluke Swords unsheathed and crossed together on both sides. A brief speech came from Professor Emeritus Bill Baines, a veteran who served in Vietnam, instructed students for many years, and watched TMCC evolve into the exceptional college it is today. There was purpose in every syllable he spoke while recalling his history. He did not forget to chime in with the occasional entertaining anecdote about his fellow Marines as the crowd grinned and chuckled, appreciating the fond memories they shared after the war. With only a handful of his friends still alive, this tradition expresses our gratitude for the enduring legacy of servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. He put on his reading glasses, pulled out a small piece of paper, and delivered the Commandant of the Marine Corps message.

Kealii Kalawao-Cummings, Bill Baines, and Felipe Gutierrez cut into the cake with the famed Mameluke Swords.

Kealii Kalawao-Cummings, Bill Baines, and Felipe Gutierrez cut into the cake with the famed Mameluke Swords.

“We go to war whenever our Nation calls, and in the interwar periods, we train, prepare, and innovate. We have chosen a life of service and sacrifice—an honorable life with meaning. We sacrifice so our fellow citizens don’t have to, and we seek nothing in return but a chance to be first to fight,” read Baines, attributing the words to General Eric M. Smith, Commandant of the Marine Corps.

With steel in hand, the youngest Marine, Kealii Kalawao-Cummings, Veterans Education Benefits Associate, and the oldest Marine, Baines, cut into the confection and handed out plates for those present to relish the moment. Onlookers applauded and cheered, and a fulfilling sensation swept across the plaza like the invisible whipping wind. While the treat was delicious, the camaraderie was even more appealing, swapping tales about servicemember experiences, the future of higher education for student veterans, and advocacy for mental health networks. The breeze nipped at the noses and cheeks of everyone in attendance, but the warmth of fellowship imbued every woven stitch of their jackets and gloves.

Thank You for Your Service

Getting acclimated to living on your terms is arduous when all you’ve known is regimented schedules and responsibilities. There’s an order to everything you do in the military. You know what to do, when, and how to do it. Student veterans need our encouragement to become independent and develop into their destined careers. An unparalleled spirit of brotherhood coexists with serving. Knowing others are in similar circumstances at TMCC is a gateway to connectedness and goodwill. Nobody has to tread this road alone.

“TMCC ensures that military-connected students have a smooth transition into academia. We have dedicated resources on campus to support them, such as the VA Vital Program, where a VA social worker is available twice a week to assist with any mental health needs,” said Felipe Gutierrez De Alba, Veterans Program Coordinator.

“We also bring in community partners to educate students and staff about federal or state benefits they may qualify for. Our senior leadership understands their unique needs, being invaluable assets to our community,” continued Gutierrez.

Veterans Upward Bound and the Veterans Resource Center are phenomenal assets for students pursuing college-level aspirations. With fellow veterans among their staff, they relate to you profoundly and can source the best avenues for academic success. They recommend solutions to your problems and work tirelessly to establish an atmosphere of belonging on campus. One team, one fight.

Gutierrez put it beautifully when describing veterans on a human level. “Not all veterans are broken. We have our challenges like everyone else.” Acknowledge those who served or are currently serving this weekend. It means more to them than you can imagine. No member joins for the glory. They do it because they love this country and the opportunities it provides all of us. Perfect strangers willing to lay down their lives so that those comforts we take for granted are still there when we rise in the morning. That our inherent right to be whomever we desire is untainted by the influence of oppression. TMCC is grateful for their sacrifice and salutes these heroes!

“Sergeant Major Ruiz and I are proud of all you have done this past year to protect and enhance our reputation as America’s best warriors. We hope you know that we will be with you every step of the way as we prepare for the fights ahead. We ask that every Marine—active, reserve, and veteran—honor the legacy of those who went before us by continuing to uphold our high standards. Semper Fidelis,” read Baines.

For more information, please visit the Veteran Services Office or call 775-337-5612.