Kevin Young’s professional skills and experience differ from many of his colleagues. They include:
- 140 solo parachute jumps, scuba and Ranger-certified,
- More than 850 Medevac rescues, resulting in eight life-saving recommendations,
- The ability to make a bed with sheets pulled so tight you can bounce a quarter off of them, and
- The Purple Heart for being wounded while evacuating a wounded Iraqi soldier.
“It’s always been a friendly environment here,” said Young, who has worked for the university since 2007. “Every time I turn around, I run into [a vet on campus].” Employee Don Weule in the graphics and photography department downstairs from Young’s office served in the Air Force. Shawn Ouellet in CSPH IT is a fellow vet. The list goes on.
According to a recent survey by the Office of Veteran Student Services (OVSS), 300 CU Denver|Anschutz staff and faculty members self-identify as military veterans. Under the leadership of Veteran Student Services Manager Cameron Cook—a former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant—many of them are working to create a Veteran Steering Committee to build community and support one another and students.
When Mary Francavilla’s Army colonel husband leaves for overseas deployments to dangerous areas of the world, she worries.
“He’s in harm’s way, and I may not hear from him,” said Francavilla, assistant director in the Scholarship Resource Office. “It’s hard to walk in that world when you’re not near a military base. Not everyone thinks about what it’s like to be a military spouse.” She keeps a photo of her husband in his uniform on her office wall.
“I want [student veterans] to know that I’m here as a staff member and a military spouse,” she said. “They don’t have to discuss anything, but I want them to know that someone gets it.”
Young’s office walls, too, testify to another life—The Bronze Star for actions in Afghanistan and Iraq; an Audie Murphy medallion for leadership; framed photos of uniformed young men with their arms draped over each other’s shoulders.
Transitioning to civilian life took some getting used to for him. Once a sergeant first class, Young had to establish a new way of life, in which he had to work his way up again. Expectations seemed less clear, and adapting sometimes felt overwhelming.
“You seem to be in another world at times,” he said.
Supporting One Another
There are already several programs in place at CU Denver|Anschutz to support student veterans, including the OVSS and CU Denver Boots to Suits, which links student veterans with mentors and helps them procure the proper attire for a civilian career.
“In the past three to five years, [growth in the university vet community] has been phenomenal,” Francavilla said, “especially with the establishment of Veteran Student Services.”
Now, faculty and staff are mobilizing to create a searchable online database network of veterans. Professor of Public Affairs Lloyd Burton, PhD, is getting involved in the efforts.
“It’s great that our campus is becoming more explicitly supportive of the vet community,” said Burton, a Vietnam War vet and faculty advisor to the Office of Veteran Student Services and to the Veteran Student Organization. He plans to join the Veteran Steering Committee and wants to make the database as comprehensive as possible. That way, if fellow vets were looking for support, they might find it—in himself, Young, Francavilla or someone else.
“I hope to participate in any way I can to help support veterans and their families,” Francavilla said.
Did you know?
CU Denver has been named a “Military Friendly” university by G.I. Jobs for the past two years. Learn more.
A Family Forever
Long workdays, close quarters, dangerous situations—these are the experiences that build close relationships among veterans.
“Every vet will tell you, there’s a special camaraderie among all veterans, because we understand the struggles we’ve been through,” Young said.
At CU Denver|Anschutz there’s a place for that camaraderie—the OVSS, the VSO, Boots to Suits and, soon, the Veteran Steering Committee.
“I would love to support [a veteran], because I can relate. I want them to know, ‘I have your back,’” Francavilla said. “In the military it’s a family, and it’s forever.”