There is only one Purple Heart campus in Alaska. That designation was announced Thursday at University of Alaska Fairbanks. As KUAC’s Robyne reports, it also marked changes to help serve veteran students.
More than 15 percent of the students at UAF have served in the military. It is not always easy to transition from active duty to active study.
“You already feel like a minority, being a veteran, but also being like the oldest one in the classroom. OK, I’m in college now, someone needs to guide me," says Anna Givens.
Givens has been at UAF since 2016, when the Veteran’s Center was open only short hours and help was not always available. But now the University has its own Department of Military and Veteran Services, and Givens helps other veterans find resources.
“From applying for your VA educational benefits, to applying to the university to showing you all the different degree programs the university offers, and peer mentoring, and Student Veterans of America – there are so many different resources that I know of now, that I didn’t know when I started here.”
There are about 1,400 veterans on campus, but the new department serves more – the full-time students who are veterans, as well as active duty soldiers and airmen from Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base who come for classes, and military spouses using their education benefits. Helping them all navigate the university culture is Jackie Morton, the new Military and Veteran Services Director, who says they are trying to build a better center.
“It’s very easy in Fairbanks because we are such a military town; service groups just want to help our students.”
Morton was active duty for about 11 years and is now a reservist. She welcomed guests from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, MOPH, to yesterday’s ceremony. The local chapter designated UAF as a Purple Heart Campus. That means a lot to Diane Benson, whose son lost his legs in combat.
“To be around full-bodied people after spending months at Walter Reed Army Medical, it was hard to adjust. And MOPH was a home. It was like being around others who knew, without me having to say anything.”
The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. military who have been wounded or killed in combat. The designation was based on the university commissioning more officers than any other Alaska college, graduating members serving all major American conflicts, and its honoring of the sacrifices made by Purple Heart Medal recipients.