Military memories resurface on Veterans Day

Center for veterans, military-affiliated people to expand on campus



Penny Martinez (left) stands in front of the Veterans and Military-Affiliated Student Services center, which she hopes to expand.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen news co-editor

On Veterans Day, while thousands of WSU students enjoy the day off of school, those who served in the military took a moment to reflect on how their service changed their lives.

Will Pierce, junior landscape, nursery and greenhouse management major, said he served in the navy from 2013-17. From a young age, he felt it was his destiny to serve in the military.

“I kind of had a Lt. Dan situation from Forrest Gump. I had a lot of family that served,” Pierce said.

Pierce said he went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. Afterward, he went to Bremerton aboard the USS John C. Stennis. When serving in the navy, Pierce learned about the power of teamwork.

“You’re held to a certain standard, and you have to show up every day,” Pierce said. “I did learn the power of the team … Almost how institutional communication can facilitate work.”

Richard Corson, senior construction management major, said he served in the U.S. Army from around 2004-09. He originally joined the military to help pay for college.

He completed basic training in South Carolina and was first stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. Then, he was deployed to Iraq, Corson said.

Corson said he understands the purpose of Veterans Day, but at the same time, that day brings a sense of sadness for him.

“On that day, I forget which year it was, the Taliban did a surprise attack on a fun run. I forget how many casualties they took, but it was quite a few,” Corson said. “We had a whole bunch of Afghans who worked with us, and because of that day, the general kicked nearly all the Afghans off the base.”

Penny Martinez, Veterans and Military-Affiliated Student Services manager, also served in the military for over 20 years, beginning when she was 17 in 1986, she said. She joined the reserves first and then went active duty after about 4 1/2 to five years, retiring in July 2010.

Martinez said she joined the army because her father was an Air Force veteran, and she was surrounded by veterans for most of her life. She also saw it as an opportunity to pay for college.

Some of the main takeaways she gained from her service in the army were camaraderie, friendship, confidence, teamwork, and the ability to adapt and overcome, she said. These feelings are what she misses from the army the most.

“I usually get with my veteran friends [on Veterans Day] and we have dinner together and we just enjoy being together in a group of people that understand each other,” she said.

Over time, in the military Pierce developed a strong sense of camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, he said. He developed this through his training exercises.

“You get to see and meet so many people and help people in so many ways. Just in random ways you’ll be able to contribute to the mission,” Pierce said. “The training is sometimes the spot where you can build camaraderie and sometimes break it.”

In the five years since he left the military, he is still learning what it means to return to civilian life, Pierce said. After serving for four years, his idea of service has become more defined.

“That might be a philosophical thing I have forever because there is such a different thing in [military] culture when compared to being a civilian,” he said. “I think if you’re putting your best foot forward in the environment you’re in, you’re serving.”

After leaving the military, Pierce said he felt he had no clear direction in life and no real plan for the future. Since he came to WSU, he has made a home in the veterans office.

VMASS first came into existence in 2014, Martinez said. It is a place for students to come for a similar sense of friendship like they had in the military.

“It gave a place for students to come for the camaraderie, a place to talk to the certifying officer about, ‘how do I get my certificate for a housing loan?’ or, ‘I’m having issues and struggles but don’t want to go down to the counseling office by myself,’” Martinez said.

It was once called the Student Veterans Center, but Martinez said the newer name is more accurate because they serve not only veterans, but also students involved with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, among others. Last year, VMASS served over 1,133 students.

In the future, she would like to see the services for student veterans expand. VMASS plans to remodel its current space, expanding to a larger area of the Holland Library. Martinez said student veterans are extremely capable and should be given the same opportunities as other students.

“We have a higher graduation rate, we have a higher success rate, we are more dedicated employees than any other job we go to,” she said.