USFSM Military Appreciation Day a time to reflect and give thanks

By: Rich Shopes
USF Sarasota-Manatee Communications & Marketing

SARASOTA, Fla. (April 17, 2015) – Student-veterans attending Thursday’s Military Appreciation Day at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee heard two key messages: Help is here and your service is invaluable.

“What you did mattered,” Jason Beardsley of Concerned Veterans for America told the 100 or so who gathered in the USFSM courtyard to peruse information booths, eat barbecue and listen to speakers.

USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Dr. Sandra Stone opened the afternoon event saying, “Each one of us has a defining moment in our lives. For me it was Vietnam. … I really respect and appreciate the service of our veterans.”

She was preceded by an American Legion Post No. 266 (Sarasota) color guard presentation.

The fourth year for the Appreciation Day, the event was moved from November to April so it wouldn’t conflict with Veterans Day ceremonies at USF Tampa and in the local area. The USF System is regularly recognized as one of the top “Military Friendly Schools” in the country.

USF Sarasota-Manatee counts about 130 veterans among its student body, although that number is likely low because it counts only veterans who paid for classes using veteran benefits and not those enrolled simply as “students,” said Todd Hughes, USF Sarasota-Manatee’s veterans’ services administrator.

“There are some veterans who just paid out-of-pocket,” he said.

Regionally, more than 90,000 veterans live in the Sarasota-Manatee area, making it one of the highest concentrations of veterans nationally, said Steven Garcia, veterans’ service officer for Sarasota County.

Mostly local veterans and student veterans attended the all-day rally, which was punctuated by 70s-era rock n’ roll and concluded with a 6 p.m. screening of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” at the Selby Auditorium.

“I like the presentation of the services. It’s important, especially for the kids in school, to see this,” summed up Army veteran and accounting student Claude Johnson Jr., 51.

In addition to Beardsley, a former Army Green Beret, Air Force veteran Carl Hunsinger of the Manatee County Veterans’ Council addressed the crowd, urging student-veterans to join service groups, such as the America Legion, and to capitalize on the benefits available to them.

In some cases, educational benefits not directly used by veterans can be passed on to family members, he said.

“So don’t take something like basket-weaving just to use up your benefits. You can pass them on to your kids,” Hunsinger said.

Johnson said one reason he attended USF Sarasota-Manatee was because his benefits essentially funded his entire education. There might even be room for his daughter to take classes.

“I like going to school and like to learn,” he said, shrugging.

Among other attendees Thursday were: The Sarasota County Veterans Commission, Val’s Dog Tags, the Hearing Loss Association of America Sarasota Chapter, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, Goodwill Manasota, the Counseling and Wellness Center, the Sarasota County Veterans Service Office and two representatives from Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who answered questions about veterans benefits and upcoming legislation that would ease veterans’ registration costs at colleges and universities.

The venue also included a rock-climbing wall, as well as an inflatable obstacle course that enabled students to dive between cushions and tumble down a slide.

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About USF Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM)

USF Sarasota-Manatee is a regional campus of the University of South Florida system, offering the prestige of a nationally ranked research university with the convenience of a hometown location, including classes in Manatee County, in North Port and online. Separately accredited, USFSM is ideal for those interested in pursuing a baccalaureate or master’s degree, professional certification, or continuing education credit in a small, personal setting with distinguished faculty and a dynamic curriculum of over 40 academic programs. Website: www.usfsm.edu