Student veterans connect with each other, raise awareness


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

The inaugrual ISU Community Supper was held in the Great Hall in the Memorial Union on Nov. 13. The event is to honor veterans and their families.

David Gerhold

After a veteran has served in war, there is an even bigger challenge to overcome, said Tom Polito, assistant professor in agriculture and life sciences. That challenge is called life.

Polito was a speaker on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the ISU First Annual Community Supper to honor veterans and their families. He said he understands that coming home after their services can be tough for veterans, because they often have problems readjusting and pursuing a career.

“I walked in your shoes as well, I was in the Naval Reserve and afterwards I had problems applying for colleges,” Polito said. “There were people at other universities, who promised to help me out and call me. It’s been 40 years now, and I’m still waiting for that call.”

Fortunately for him, he said, he was accepted by the ISU community.

“With the Community Supper, we wanted to create an opportunity, where our greater community can come together in a humble show of support,” said Jathan Chicoine, veterans services coordinator at the Memorial Union.

Chicoine said they wanted to create a space to honor veterans and their families and facilitate conversation to allow them to connect and share their stories.

The Veterans Center decided to invite their guests in an unconventional way. Student veterans personally met up with faculty members and asked them to come, Chicoine said.

“In today’s world, it’s all about technology and sending out emails, but we wanted to strengthen the human to human connection, because in the end, that’s what it’s all about and I think people really appreciated that.”

The Community Supper was opened by the presentation of the colors and a blessing by Preston Duncan, member of the native American tribe Meskwaki Nation.

“We pray for health for all the veterans, all the soldiers, wherever they are at right now,” Duncan said, both in English and his native language.

The supper was served by the ISU Dining services. Young and old veterans as well as faculty members and interested students used the time to get to know each other.

“There are a lot of student veterans on campus and people are not always aware of that, so it’s important to raise awareness for them and make some connections,” said Levi Larsen, veteran of Afghanistan and sophomore in pre-business.

Larsen said he enjoys talking to older veterans to hear their stories and appreciates events like the dinner. It shows the community support veterans have.

One of the student speakers was Nicole Arzberger, senior in athletic training and president of CYPPORT, an organization dedicated to serve and support people with military affiliations.

“Veterans need to realize that there are lots of people willing and ready to support them,” Arzberger said. “And I myself am proud to do my part to help you.”

Arzberger said that her boyfriend is a Marine.

“It is not easy, because I as well as others in my position count down the days until I see my loved one again,” Arzberger said.

She said that one day a veteran came up to her and told her that she had the toughest job in the military.

“I couldn’t quite believe that, but he continued and said soldiers’ loved ones help to bring stability and reason to their significant others, it helps them to stay grounded,” Arzberger said.

Nick Friess, Vietnam veteran, had the opportunity to talk to several younger veterans during Community Supper.

“It seems like every generation has it’s war, so we are very lucky that we still have young people crazy enough to do this kind of stuff and volunteer to serve,” Friess said.

Friess said events like the dinner helps veterans because today there is a different attitude towards them compared to Vietnam.

“Back in the day, there was a huge controversy about the war, so it was very lonely being a veteran and it wasn’t something you’d want people to know, so you hid it,” Friess said.

The Veterans Center wants to make the Community Supper an annual event.

“We want to learn, grow and adapt, so that we can make it even better next year,” Chicoine said.