Dedication of Veterans Memorial Garden highlights campus' military outreach effort

November 07, 2013|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

On Thursday afternoon, a five-person crew at Anne Arundel Community College raised a flagpole to mark a spot on the Arnold campus that school officials say will commemorate military veterans.

Unlike the iconic 1945 photograph showing five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the Anne Arundel contingent was aided by a boom lift in hoisting the 30-foot flagpole.

It is a key piece of the school's Veterans Memorial Garden, a site that will be formally dedicated Monday — Veterans Day — in a ceremony that's part of the school's Veterans Appreciation Week. Other events slated for the week include a cellphone collection for soldiers and a veterans appreciation exhibit.

The garden dedication — with the raising of a 5-foot-by-8-foot U.S. flag — is the culmination of an effort by the school's Veteran Student Association to raise awareness of the military service performed by AACC students.

"It's a very good thing that the school is doing this to honor veterans, because nowadays not a lot of people remember certain wars or casualties or what veterans went through in order to make our country what it is today," said student Sebastian Ploszaj of Baltimore, a former Marine and president of the Veteran Student Association.

"A lot of our younger generation is not getting educated about it," Ploszaj said, "or people are just starting not to care."

The garden includes shrubs, perennials and grasses, and is in a high-traffic area at the base of the amphitheater on the west side of the school's main campus.

Maury Chaput, executive director of administrative services at the college, said the flag will be illuminated and will "fly 24/7."

The school broke ground on the garden last month, capping an effort that began last spring when the Veteran Student Association approached Chaput about the project. He contacted the school's foundation for support, and the college secured local business donations for nearly all the estimated $35,000 cost of the project.

Among the local donors: Homestead Gardens, an Anne Arundel County based nursery and garden center whose $25,000 donation included site demolition, masonry and landscaping.

Brian Riddle, president of Homestead Gardens, said his grandfathers and his father served in the armed forces. "I recognize the importance and sacrifice so many people give to protect our freedoms," he said.

Chaput's family paid for the flagpole and flag — in part to honor his father, a World War II veteran who died in July.

"Right from the beginning," Chaput said, "this meant a lot to me."

Officials at the college said it has about 1,700 veterans, including credit and noncredit students. As part of its outreach to military personnel, the school has a Military and Veterans Resource Center and a student veteran ambassador program, school officials said.

"It gives veterans hope," Ploszaj said of efforts to draw military personnel into higher education.

"A lot of guys come to school, and they're scared, they're worried or they want to give up," he said, "so we're here as a steppingstone to help them and guide them in the right places and tell them that they've been through worse and they can make it through school."

Students with a military background say a strong bond exist between them. Most are older than typical incoming freshmen and many must juggle jobs, family and school work to achieve their educational goals. Their military service gives them a shared experience.

"You see the camaraderie. It doesn't matter what branch you've been in or if you're a spouse or a child, there's still that bond," said student Nicole Younger of Largo, an Air Force reservist and assistant in the resource center.

"Military is its own entity," added Younger," so when you have people that have been there, been through basic training, been through different things, you talk about your different experiences. You know you have something totally in common that other people just don't understand."

Rene Campo, Anne Arundel Community College adjunct faculty member for the business management department and faculty adviser to the Student Veteran Association, said many veterans turn to two-year schools as they transition into civilian life, and any outreach efforts that schools make can ease that transition.

"Any kind of recognition for the veterans is wonderful," Campo said, "but from a broader perspective, it brings an awareness to our student body — or the community in general — that we all need to be active to help our veteran and military population transition to the next phase of life successfully."

Anne Arundel Community College will dedicate the new Veterans Memorial Garden at 11 a.m. Monday. The public is invited to attend.

jburris@baltsun.com

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