In the rich, ever-changing history of the University of Kentucky, one constant remains – the University’s close ties to training and supporting members of the United States Armed Forces. The provisions in the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 included land and an endowment to support instruction in agriculture, the mechanical arts, science, and classical studies. The historic Act also outlined our responsibility to provide military training required for all students.
Throughout history, this tradition and service to our country remains. Campus facilities built in their memory are home to plaques and memorial walls that bear their names of Kentuckians who perished in both World Wars and the Vietnam War. Our returning veterans from WWII led to a massive growth of the UK family, including students, faculty, staff, and facilities. Even our mascot, the Wildcat, was given to us from a former Commandant of Cadets who described our football team as having “fought like wildcats.”
Veterans Day, once known as Armistice Day, was originally observed as the official end of World War I, but now serves as a reminder that all wars, regardless of scale, are fought by people: sons, daughters, relatives, neighbors, and classmates.
Casey Garstang is a nursing student and a member of the Army National Guard and Army ROTC. In the summer after her sophomore year, Garstang attended a 12-week basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and earned a scholarship that enabled her to continue to attend UK. Today, she juggles nursing school, her commitments as a cadet, and drill as a Sergeant in the National Guard. Garstang has found that though she maintains a busy schedule, she has been constantly supported through the Army ROTC, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Nursing to help her maintain her commitments and reach her goals. Garstang is expecting to commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and graduate with plans to serve in the Army as a nurse.
Jonathan Wuerzburger is a student in the Gatton College of Business and Economics. He enlisted into the Air Force in 2011 as an aircraft mechanic. Within his four years of service, Wuerzburger deployed twice, to Oman and Qatar, and through hard work, he finished his service contract in May 2015 as a flying crew chief on C-17s. With goals of becoming an Air Force officer and pilot, Wuerzburger began attending UK and working in the Veterans’ Resource Center. He joined Air Force ROTC that fall. Despite his quick transition from active duty to student life, Wuerzburger has found the change relatively easy due to his immediate engagement with the University community. The recently renovated Veterans Resource Center in Erikson Hall has served him well, and serves as community space to convene with other veterans. Wuerzburger is expected to graduate and commission in May 2018.
Matthew Bradford is a Kentucky native and former Marine. In 2007, an explosive device detonated under him while serving in Iraq. As a result, he lost both his legs and his sight, but not his spirit. Bradford, after rehabilitation and years of continued service with the Marine Corps, decided to earn his degree at the University of Kentucky in journalism and history, and next May, Bradford will get to cross something else off his bucket list – graduation.
Sacrifice, though, goes beyond our immediate campus borders. And, like the University’s more than 150-year connection to our Armed Forces, it spans generations. It is in that spirit, and in their honor, that the University of Kentucky is proud to sponsor an Honor Flight for our veterans to visit their memorials in Washington, DC.
The University’s partner, Honor Flight, orchestrates and flies our veterans to Washington D.C. to see their memorials at no cost to the veteran. Priority is given to WWII veterans, followed by Korean War and Vietnam War servicemen and women. The University of Kentucky, with the support of Honor Flight and private philanthropy, is excited to be the first university in the country to sponsor one of these incredibly important flights. Our Veterans Resource Center and UK Student Veterans of America organization are spearheading these efforts, and you can find out more at www.uky.edu/honorflight.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have answered the call to serve, and I invite you to attend our annual observance of Veterans Day this Friday at 11:00am behind Main Building, where we will celebrate the announcement of UK’s Honor Flight.
Our commitment to our student veterans – and those faculty, staff, and alumni who have served our country – is important to us. We would like to extend our gratitude to all of our veterans, students, alumni, faculty, and staff this Veterans Day.