When Michael Skarda started the journey of becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, there were no indications that his military career was beginning amidst two decades of conflict. In 2002, Skarda joined the Air Force’s Reserve Officer…
Meet OVMA Advisory Board Member Gary Ginsburg ’72
As an advisory board member for Syracuse University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA), Gary Ginsburg ’72 has made a lasting impact on the lives of his fellow veterans, especially those residing in Central New York.
After graduating from Nottingham High School in the 1960s and spending two years at a local community college, Ginsburg arrived on campus to study in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Like many Newhouse students today, Ginsburg tried his hand at a wide range of communications-related jobs, such as writing stories, taking photos for newspaper articles or reporting for the local broadcast station, WAER. However, communications was not his primary career focus when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army after graduation.
“I served in various disciplines in the military, including engineering, personnel, training and operations,” says Ginsburg. “The communication skills I acquired at the Newhouse School were helpful because no matter where we go or what we do, the ability to walk, talk and communicate is essential.”
Ginsburg served four years on active duty in the U.S. Army, followed by an additional 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, eventually retiring as a command sergeant major in 2011. Despite his successful military career, it was the veterans from previous generations that initially drew him into the advocacy work he began while still in the reserves.
“Both my father and grandfather were veterans, serving in World War II and World War I, respectively,” Ginsburg explains. “When I transitioned out of the Army, I had some free time and began volunteering at the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester.”
The Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester is independent of the Department of Veterans Affairs, just like the one located here in Syracuse. It assists transitioning veterans and their family members by providing financial aid, connecting veterans to community resources, offering various therapy programs and working to reduce veteran homelessness and suicide. This work ignited a spark in Ginsburg and set him on the path to advocate for his fellow veterans at home and eventually across the nation.
Ginsburg became involved with the Jewish War Veterans (JWV), one of the first veterans service organizations formed to raise awareness of the contributions made by Jewish servicemembers during the American Civil War. Ginsburg joined the local chapter in Rochester but over the years, rose through the ranks to become the JWV’s department commander for New York, where the organization was founded in 1896.
In 2015, Ginsburg was approached to discuss supporting Syracuse University’s ambitious goal of becoming the best place for veterans. The opportunity to give back to his alma mater and support veterans was too good to pass up, and he accepted a position on the OVMA’s advisory board.
“I was finishing up my time in the reserves at that point, and I’m very proud of my association with the University, both in terms of Newhouse and now the OVMA,” says Ginsburg, who has been on the advisory board during a period of significant growth for both the OVMA and the University’s initiatives for veterans and military families. “I got to witness the transformation of the National Veterans Resource Center from when it was essentially a hole in the ground to what we have now—a beautiful state-of-the-art facility.”
For Ginsburg, the ability to support veterans seeking higher education after military service resonates personally. Ginsburg earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California using his G.I. Bill benefits and now sees the opportunity with the OVMA to give back, acknowledging the meaningful role that Syracuse University played in the development of the G.I. Bill, which greatly impacted him after his service.
In August of this year, Ginsburg accepted the responsibilities of being the national vice commander for the JWV for a one-year term. This role will have him overseeing and supporting the national outreach strategies for the organization. For Ginsburg, it’s an opportunity to advocate for all veterans. Despite the organization’s name, Ginsburg emphasizes that the JWV’s mission includes advocating for all veterans and serving as a voice against hatred and bigotry in all forms.
When reflecting on his time as a student at Syracuse University, Ginsburg mentions that he cannot recall ever being invited to have dinner at the Chancellor’s House. However, over the last few years, he has enjoyed this opportunity on several occasions, which he attributes to his affiliation with the OVMA.
“I see the emphasis from senior leadership on campus—they aren’t just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk,” says Ginsburg. “I think it’s great to be a graduate of this University and witness it truly becoming the best place for veterans and military-connected individuals.”