Veterans Day provides sense of community to students, staff


Jordan Rusche, Lifestyles Editor (She/Her)

Those walking through the Union last week may have noticed flags signifying the Hall of Heroes in remembrance of South Dakota service members who have died.

South Dakota State University recognized its veteran students, staff and faculty members throughout “Warrior Week,” Nov. 9-13,  with both the Hall of Heroes and other events.

Some events, like the cornhole tournament and obstacle course, had to be canceled, but the Veterans Affairs Office still provided several opportunities despite the pandemic. One of which was David Flute, secretary of the South Dakota Department Tribal Relations and veteran, who spoke about his experiences Wednesday, Nov. 11. The event was sponsored by both the Veterans Affairs Office and the American Indian Student Center.

“This is our first year having a keynote speaker, of that caliber at the least, so that was pretty cool,” Cole Hennen, president of the Armed Forces Association on campus and former army truck driver, said.

Hennen says that in the past, they have also promoted events like a weightlifting competition and cook-out, though these were not possible this year. One event he would like to bring back is the discounted meals for veterans at Weary Wil’s that was provided last year.

“I think that was a great program,” he said. “I would love to see that going forward, cause that’s the biggest thing for us, during Veterans Day, is being able to eat and relax and hang out with our veteran friends.”

There are also plans to start a program in the community called Shoveling for Soldiers, in which AFA members and other veterans/active duty students would help shovel snow for elderly veterans around Brookings, according to AFA adviser and lecturer Andrew Ellis.

“A lot of them want to get some volunteer work in, because they have a couple scholarships through the Veterans Affairs Office that we require they have a few hours community service,” he said. Ellis is also a veteran, serving in the army from 1993-2003 as sergeant first class.

Hennen feels hosting these events on campus helps bring veterans at SDSU together and builds a community for them to share their experiences and feel connected to others.

“The biggest concern we see as veterans is the high suicide rate,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of people know there are other options around here … that’s one of the big things I want to take with AFA, is just building community, that way people know there is someone there for them.”

Ellis shares this belief, saying these shared experiences create strong bonds between both those who are prior service and those who are current services.

“When you’re in the military and you find out someone else is in the military, there’s that brotherhood or sisterhood, immediately there’s a connection there,” he said. “And you can always share stories with another person of military service background whether they were in for four years or they did twenty, there’s always a common ground there.”

With 272 students on campus as of the fall semester using military benefits, including active-duty veterans, current service members and students who are dependents of military members, there’s plenty of community to be found.

It’s partially because of this that Hennen, working with Students Association Sen. Andrew Rasmussen, helped draft a new resolution to recognize November as Military and Veterans Appreciation Month.

“Basically, it brings veterans and military-affiliated students to the forefront, brings up some of the events we’re doing this week and through the month of November,” Hennen said. “It helps recruit for AFA too and put our name out there, and that way if there are any military-affiliated students that don’t know about the AFA, it guides them to a community that they can be a part of.”

Ellis feels honoring veterans throughout the entire month can also help bring awareness to veterans, both on campus and as alumni.

“A coordinated effort around campus would be nice,” he said.

“Recognizing those that choose or have chosen to serve while others didn’t or don’t is something that sets everything apart … having SDSU recognize service members current and former, to stand up at any meeting or any of those things during the month, would be enough.”