By: Nicholas Schleh, Staff Writer
At a school with the largest student veteran population within the University of Maine System (UMS), USM has been showing support and honoring those who have served their country in the weeks surrounding Veteran’s Day. Camden Ege, the Assistant Veteran Services Coordinator, commented that USM’s celebration of veterans is top notch.
“Together, the events burnish USM’s reputation as a university that values and respects veterans,” said Ege, an Air Force veteran.
On Nov. 5, there was a flag raising ceremony on the Portland campus and the introduction of a Purple Heart parking space outside of Sullivan Gym. A reception in honor of veterans was held on the ninth at the start of the Women’s Basketball season. On the twelfth, USM students aided in efforts to identify veterans graves at the Evergreen Cemetery.
“We are really trying to make it accessible for the veterans and the community members,” said Ege, “especially with the multiple campuses.” On Nov. 8, USM held keynote speaker and Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts, a veteran of Afghanistan who shared his story and touched on the values and comradery experienced by those who have served. Ege commented that Pitts lecture hit home for someone like himself who served six years of active duty.
Pitts also spent time in the Veterans Resource Center talking to and getting to know the local veterans before giving his keynote speech. At the event, a parent who lost their child, known as a Gold Star Mother, connected with Pitts over losing her son in Iraq. Ege said that the audience was moved to tears from her story.
USM President Glenn Cummings was in attendance for the week’s events honoring veterans. USM has a Veteran Services department that works to aid veterans in their transition from active service to life in the classroom.
“It’s the most difficult thing I have ever done that nobody prepared you for,” said Ege in regard to his transition out of the Air Force. “Adjusting to the life was kind of a process,” he said. “The person that won all these awards doesn’t matter sitting in a classroom anymore.” The medal Ege is most proud of is his Distinguished Graduate Award, which is granted for outstanding leadership and is decided by both peers and instructors.
“I would say my personal experiences is what drove me to do this type of work,” said Ege. “There were a lot of gaps in this system that I think I could at least tell people about.” Helping veterans in school has been a focus on Ege’s professional career after getting his graduate’s degree from USM.
The Veteran Services department at USM is the only department in the UMS that has two full-time veteran’s coordinators and certifying officials. They work to help students navigate the GI Bill and its benefits.
Ege said that his time in the Air Force taught him perspective, patience and most of all, professionalism; and he hopes to carry those values into his work life helping veteran students adjust to life as a student.
For future events, Veteran Services has teamed up with the Maine Department of Labor to host a lecture on military culture training for employers on what they should know when hiring veterans, to be held on Nov. 27 at the Portland campus. USM also offers Green Zone: Staff and Faculty Military Awareness Training for specific groups and faculty departments per request and on to be determined dates.