The military historian and academic researcher in Dr. Hilary Miller tells her the location of MTSU’s new Veterans and Military Family Center truly is special.
“We are on hallowed ground,” said Miller, the center’s director, knowing campus property in and around Keathley University Center was utilized by the military during World War II.
“It used to be a runway. The hangar was in front; the Vet Village was where the parking lot is; they lived in Rutledge Hall. … The university has always been dedicated to veterans.”
With plenty of fanfare — including a $50,000 boost for technology from legendary country music entertainer Charlie Daniels, a visit by U.S. Veterans Affairs deputy secretary Sloan Gibson and many others — the university opened the center in grand style Nov. 5 with a ribbon-cutting at the center on the first floor of the KUC, followed by a program in front of an overflow crowd in the KUC Theater.
The 2,600-square-foot, $329,000 center will be a one-stop-shop for MTSU’s approximately 1,000 student veterans and family members.
“It is a demonstration of the commitment by our faculty, administration and staff to serving those who have ably served our nation,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. “And it represents, in very real and tangible ways, how we at MTSU will help our veterans and their families successfully transition from military to college and from college to career.”
The center becomes the largest and most comprehensive veterans center among Tennessee universities, McPhee said.
“Even more remarkable is the speed in which this center has taken shape,” he said, adding that when Keith M. Huber accepted the role as senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives in January, no facility of this type was on the horizon.
McPhee said he and Provost Brad Bartel believed “we could, and should, do more for those who have served our nation.”
The Veterans and Military Family Center will be “the singular location on our campus where our student-veterans will find everything they need for success, from scheduling courses and getting help with paperwork to getting help navigating the array of veteran benefits and discovering employment opportunities,” McPhee said.
“Most important, this center will be a place for our student-veterans to study, to gather and meet and to get help from fellow veterans who will serve as peer advisers and sponsors.”
The chief recommendation from Huber and Miller was the creation of the center — “an ambitious facility,” McPhee called it. He praised Huber, a retired three-star Green Beret, for leading the charge, and director Miller, a military spouse and member of the MTSU Veterans Committee.
Gibson told student-veterans that “Americans support you and, clearly, the people of Tennessee support you. They want all veterans to be successful.”
He said he was impressed at seeing student-veterans working in the vet center.
“What are you going to do for yourselves and for each other?” said Gibson, posing the question to veterans. “Nothing is going to help you unless you seize on the opportunity.
“Future employers, embrace veterans. It’s both the right thing and the smart thing. … I salute every veteran seeking an education.”
Unable to attend in person, Gov. Bill Haslam provided video greetings to those gathered in the KUC Theater.
“Throughout its more than century of service for our state, Middle Tennessee State University has expressed a devotion and appreciation to the men and women who have served our nation as members of our armed forces,” Haslam said.
“Today’s dedication of the Veterans and Military Center is a remarkable expression by MTSU’s leadership of the importance of seeing those who wore the uniforms of our country. It’s the largest dedicated space on a Tennessee campus for veterans and their families, but it is more than just space. It’s where veterans can visit with fellow student veterans, celebrate success and serve others.”
Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan congratulated McPhee, Bartel and Huber in what he called “a remarkable achievement.”
“This center establishes a new standard for serving our student-veterans, a population that deserves our support and respect,” Morgan said.
“By providing our student-veterans with the care and service that they require to reach their higher education goals, we are also making strides toward the governor’s goal of 55 percent of our population having some post-secondary credential. We cannot reach the goal of 55 percent without fully reaching out and encouraging adults to pursue higher education options.”
Morgan’s remarks included news that MTSU has been named to the 2016 list of Military Friendly Schools by G.I. Jobs Magazine, the third consecutive honor from “a national publication with wide reach and influence,” he said.
He praised the university for quickly acting on Huber’s recommendations “and moved this idea from concept to reality in a matter of months,” adding to Huber that he’d like “to borrow you for a few other tasks I need to get done in the TBR system.”
Russ Deaton, interim executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, awarded MTSU a second recognition during the event — presenting a certificate for being a VETS Campus.
The Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support, or VETS, Act established a program of recognition for higher education institutions that allocate resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.
“As one of the largest educators of veterans in the state, MTSU has demonstrated its commitment to serving the students who have served our country,” said Deaton. “Investing in services to veterans provides these students with resources that reinforce the importance of veterans as part of Tennessee’s education landscape.”
In addition to state legislators, dignitaries included Many-Bears Grinder, retired U.S. Army colonel and Tennessee Department of Veterans Services commissioner; Terry “Max” Haston, adjutant general for the state of Tennessee; Evan Cope, THEC chair; Edna M. MacDonald, director of the Nashville Regional Office for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Mike Krause, executive director of the governor’s “Drive to 55” initiative; and other THEC and Veterans Affairs officials.
The center staff features five full-time staff, including a mental health counselor, and 17 part-time student-veterans.
Guided tours of the center were held following the program. Center staff moved in to the facility Nov. 2.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)