Texas A&M has a storied military past. Its Corps of Cadets was founded in 1876. Thousands of its graduates have served in the armed forces; eight have received the Medal of Honor.
Men and women still flock to join the "Corps" -- and that includes veterans. So many, in fact, that the university established "Delta Company," a unit of students composed solely of combat veterans. Many hope to get a degree and a commission and an opportunity to serve their country again.
Still wanting to serve, however, does not come cheap. "We all volunteered to be in the Corps of Cadets," acknowledge one young veteran in Delta Company, "but with that came more financial hardship other than just the uniform costs." Even with financial assistance from the GI Bill, making ends meet can be a challenge. Having already paid a price to serve their nation once, quite a few of these veteran student/cadets are struggling to cover the costs so they can serve again.
Almost a year ago, a group of local volunteers organized a screening of Veteran Nation, a documentary about how communities can serve those who served, at the Bush Presidential Library. They used the event as a "books for warriors" fundraiser, to help members of Delta Company pay for their textbooks. A recent graduate of Delta Company gave $20 he couldn't easily afford.
"If it helps guys stay with it," he said, "it’s worth it."
The group has blossomed into a full-blown program to support the Corps. Last semester, it handed out $20,000 in support scholarships to 32 cadets. One Delta Company veteran gratefully acknowledged how much extra support meant to her. Specifically, it allowed her “to devote more time to my studies and the cadets I mentor instead of having to pick up double shifts to make ends meet."
While Washington frets over the performance of the Veterans Administration, it’s worth remembering that the most important steps the nation can take to support its veterans are those that volunteers take every day.
The community of College Station and Texas A&M are a case in point. The local community effort that supports books for warriors is part of a bigger team. Texas A&M has become a model for how schools provide support for returning veterans. The university, for example, established a Veteran Resource and Support Center as a "one-stop shop" for all student veteran services. The center also helps veterans connect with one another so that they can learn from and about each another.
Texas A&M is not alone. Many other schools are waking up the task of serving veteran students. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan helped organize the Student Veterans Association which has chapters in more than 1,000 schools of higher learning. These groups provide peer-to-peer support to help vets through the transition from soldier to scholar.
As the nation marks Memorial Day it pauses to remember the fallen. A worthy way to honor their sacrifice is to invest in their comrades who have returned.
Today, more than 800,000 veterans attend college. Ensuring that they succeed in college can only benefit our communities as much as it helps these warriors move on to the next phase of their lives.
Some graduate veterans will serve again. Others will become civic leaders, start a small business, or take up a profession. Whatever path they choose, they and their families will continue to help build a better nation.
It has been said that every generation of American veterans is the greatest generation. This one is no different.JAMES JAY CARAFANO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.