The Student Veteran Association partnered with Monmouth Veteran Services and The Coming Home Project to celebrate Monmouth veterans and raise money towards combating veteran suicide, this past Veterans Day, November 11th.
Rocco Puzzo, Student Veteran Association President, army veteran and junior Political Science student, detailed the event’s several opportunities for those in attendance to participate.
“[Student Veteran Association’s] philanthropy this academic school year is combating veteran suicide,” Puzzo said. “To my right, you will see a few stations set up to contribute to our philanthropy this year.”
Stations include “Fill The Boot,” in which anyone can make a donation towards benefiting local programs and non-profits combatting the veteran suicide epidemic. “Whether it be 50 cents or $20, it will all be greatly appreciated and sent to a very good cause,” Puzzo said.
In lieu of a cash donation, attendees could also participate in a pull-up exercise station. Each pull-up represented a service member, active duty or veteran, who took their own life, as Puzzo explained.
“The number [of pull-ups] we are trying to reach is 6548,” Puzzo said. “That is the number of veterans and active duty personnel that took their own life in the year 2018.”
Attendees of the ceremony could also donate towards a “care package” meant to benefit Monmouth University student veterans currently deployed to Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Michael Callahan, army veteran and Director of Veteran Services and Student Support, as well as coordinator of the Coming Home Project, addressed the crowd and explained a brief history of Veterans Day.
“Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day for the fact that it is a U.S. public holiday,” Callahan said. “Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service. It is a day to celebrate service, a day to celebrate peace, and it is a day to celebrate the sacrifices made to ensure the property and security of our community and loved ones will continue.”
Edward Christensen, Ph.D., Vice President for Information Management and navy veteran, was the first to speak following Callahan’s introduction.
“If you look around at those veterans [in attendance], you’ll notice there’s no stereotype,” Christensen said. “Men and women… all veterans who did the things that were required of our nation. On this day, as we celebrate the sacrifice of service to our country that all veterans have made in wearing our nation’s cloth in times of war and in peace, I want you to remember today is about peace, not about war.”
Christensen emphasized that he could not speak to each individual sacrifice that every veteran in attendance may have made, but the concept of leadership was universal enough for each member to find relatable.
“Leadership comes at the cost of learning to be a follower, for a leader with no followers certainly isn’t a leader,” Christensen said. “Followership is a hard thing to do. At the end of the day, followership is about trust, and every veteran learned to trust people which they knew and didn’t know, implicitly with their lives. That trust is very important, and it has to be earned and maintained each and every day.”
Urging the audience to remember the contributions of veterans that are likely to surround them every day, Christenson described their service as having “…formed a foundation of freedom that all Americans can count on.”
Jamie Pigman, Ph.D., Lecturer of Health and Physical Education, Afghanistan Veteran, Navy Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient, delivered the final speech before the ceremony’s closing. A navy corpsman (medic), Pigman served with the second battalion, third marines.
“I really had the best job in the world,” Pigman said. “I worked around really unique, talented and diverse individuals from all over the country and in some cases, all over the world. Side by side, we faced extremely stressful and challenging situations. With that said, we all had the common goal of completing the missions that we were assigned. We were successful by working together, and a big thing we believed is strength through unity, meaning together we stand strong, and divided we fall.”
In the summer of 2005, Pigman’s 3-man sniper team was ambushed by approximately 9-12 individuals while conducting combat operations in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Despite being shot several times and having his left knee shattered, Pigman’s team successfully fought through the attack and all survived.
“This required me to have seven surgeries on my leg, and go through two years of physical therapy,” Pigman said. “I could not have gotten through all this without the support of my family and friends, as well as my local community. However, at this point I deeply miss the challenge, comradery and sense of purpose that I had while serving in the navy.”
Pigman mentioned having found new passion through his pursuit of higher education. Faculty members encouraged him to pursue graduate studies, and he soon received a P.h.D. in bio-mechanics from the University of Delaware.
“My new mission is to motivate and encourage students as a new faculty member in the Health and Physical Education Department,” Pigman said. “I say to you, students, staff and faculty: get to know your veterans around campus. They are often talented and insightful individuals, and many times you might not realize they’ve served and what they did during their service. I encourage student veterans to seek out academic mentors, engage with fellow students and share your military experience with them. You are a valuable asset to us all, and I can’t say that enough. I’ll leave you with these closing words: strength through unity.”
PHOTO TAKEN by Matthew Cutillo