SDSU named military-friendly university, named Purple Heart campus


Frankie Herrera

Army ROTC Cadets get into formation at 5:45 a.m. for physical training Friday, Feb. 15 in the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex. The Army ROTC has morning training three times a week in the SJAC.

Austen Duten, Reporter

Odds are, someone around you is either in the military or has served, according to Russ Chavez, South Dakota State’s director for Veterans Affairs.

South Dakota has the second highest military-per- capita rating. Because of this, South Dakota State’s Office of Veteran Affairs works hard to honor and assist veterans and current soldiers.

That effort has awarded SDSU with an acknowledgment of a bronze ranking as a Military Friendly school by VIQTORY for the sixth-straight year.

“This honor, like others we have received from VIQTORY and other organizations, confirms that we are doing the right things for our students who are active military members or veterans,” Chavez said.

Each year universities nation-wide can participate in completing the VIQTORY survey by Military Friendly. The survey takes into considering factors like the number of student veterans, resources and other factors each school has the potential to be ranked from bronze to gold.

“The survey is open to all colleges, but it’s something you have to pursue,” Chavez said.

SDSU gained further recognition by becoming a Purple Heart Campus, a designation that’s given to universities in appreciation and support for students or faculty that have received the Purple Heart, a military decoration for those wounded or killed in action.

Connie Johnson, the coordinator for veterans’ services in Veterans Affairs, received a Purple Heart after serving as a specialist with the 101st Military Police Company in Iraq from February 2003 to January 2004.

She is the only female Purple Heart recipient in both North and South Dakota marking South Dakota State as one of only nine universities in the country with this honor.

“When you walk into our office, you might look at me and think because she works at Veterans Affairs, she must be a veteran but not really understand that not only am I a veteran, I’m also a combat veteran and I saw war, I saw death and all of these awful things,” Johnson said. “During that time, I was also wounded while serving. Those are things you typically don’t associate with women.”

On campus, however, veteran and current military support stretch further than formal recognition. The Veterans Affairs Office provides a number of programs, assistance and activities.

The Warrior Wellness committee is another supportive element. Its mission is to be proactive and take measures to prevent suicide, especially among veterans. The VA office has also hosted fundraisers such as a golf tournament to raise money for the Wounded Warrior program.

Additionally, the organization facilitates events like resume workshops, job services, a writing workshop and book club. Another popular event is Warrior Week. A series of events leading up to Veterans Day comprising of a military appreciation game, board game night, movie night, memorial displays, laser tag and other fun opportunities. The Armed Forces Associations also hosts a retreat each year.

The office also assists with applying for education benefits and transition into school.

Its staff has also helped create five $1,000 scholarships for veterans

“The Veterans Affairs Resource Center gives our students a place to study and be themselves but also a chance to build camaraderie with others who have served,” Chavez said.