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…
Veterans Day Weekend Celebrated at the Best Place for Veterans
According to Ron Novack, executive director of Syracuse University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA), “Every day is Veterans Day at Syracuse University.” Given the University’s historic commitment to veterans and military families, it’s no surprise that the OVMA staff goes above and beyond to make the Veterans Day observance truly special each year.
This year’s celebrations commenced with the release of the Military Times Best for Vets College rankings on Nov. 6, where Syracuse University once again secured a spot in the top 10% of colleges and universities. Such an achievement is only possible due to the unwavering dedication of the University’s faculty and staff, along with a supportive campus community.
Throughout the week, three student veterans and one veteran alumni member of the OVMA advisory board shared their stories with the campus community. Benetta Dousuah G’25, Raphael Grollmus ’24 and Jack Pullano ’24 shared their reflections on their service and how Syracuse University is impacting their post-service lives.
Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Ginsburg ’72, a member of the OVMA advisory board and a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, spoke about a lifetime of service to those who have served and his selection for a leadership position within a national veterans’ service organization.
The Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, in collaboration with the Department of Digital Stewardship, launched the digital exhibition, “Our Doors Open Wide: Syracuse University and the GI Bill, 1945-1950.” Additionally, library staff created a table display to showcase the work of several student veterans and veteran alumni. A central focus of the display was a recently published book about Wilmeth Sidat-Singh ’39, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II who was a member of the historic Tuskegee Airmen.
On Nov. 10, things kicked off early as more than 230 registered participants arrived on campus in the chilly morning hours for the annual Veterans Day 5K Walk and Run, hosted by the OVMA. The event welcomed participants from the Central New York region onto campus for a run with military-connected students, faculty and staff to build camaraderie and esprit de corps.
After the run, the doors opened at the D’Aniello National Veterans Resource Center to welcome guests for the University’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony. The ceremony featured Sheneé Bletson, a U.S. Air Force veteran who works in the Office of Inclusive Excellence as an office coordinator; U.S. Navy Veteran John Nipper ’23, G’24, president of the University’s Student Veteran Organization; and Retired U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Laurie Coffey L’25, a student in the College of Law who served as the keynote speaker.
“It is crucial that young people of diverse backgrounds and circumstances are exposed to the inspiration and confidence that come from having someone believe in them. Syracuse University’s position of educating leaders is a conduit to a better future,” said Coffey, who served for more than 20 years as a combat aviator in the U.S. Navy. “It is through community that we may come together and empower young people to achieve and gain self confidence.”
On Nov. 11, the Orange men’s football team faced the Pittsburgh Panthers at Yankee Stadium in New York City, marking 100 years since the two teams came together in 1923 to establish the collegiate football tradition at the historic baseball field. Taking place on Veterans Day this year, the game featured members from the University’s ROTC Color Guard presenting the national colors and a flyover by Lt. Col. Sean Stumpf ’07, a C-130 pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
In a poignant moment during the game, twin brothers and U.S. Army veterans William and Clarence Watts ’94 were proudly featured as the game’s Hometown Heroes. The Watts twins both competed on the University’s track and field team in the early 1990s before serving in the U.S. Army. William stood in for both of the brothers on Saturday, as Clarence passed away due to complications from cancer in 2015.
Michael Greifenstein, ’27, a military-connected student and broadcast and digital journalism major in the Newhouse School, was among a handful of winners from the OVMA’s Orange in the City competition, which paid for transportation to and from the game, accommodations in the city, tickets to the game and other Syracuse-related festivities over the weekend.
“Getting to experience the 100th anniversary game, especially from the venue my girlfriend and I were in, was an unforgettable experience,” says Greifenstein. “Growing up as a Yankee fan and studying now as a Syracuse student, this a time I won’t soon forget.”
From Syracuse to New York City, OVMA Deputy Director Dwayne Murray ’91 played a crucial role behind the scenes to ensure a smooth celebration of Veterans Day at Syracuse University. Murray, who grew up in the Bronx and also competed on the University’s track and field team with the Watts Twins, shared his reflections on the weekend’s events.
“Spending time in Bronx while representing Syracuse University and the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs on Veterans Day was an enchanting experience,” says Murray, who grew up close enough to Yankee Stadium to hear the cheers after a home run. “From the color guard and the flyover by one of our very own alums to the hometown hero presentation, Veterans Day just meant a little bit more this year.”
For more information about OVMA, or how you can support the University’s goal of being the “Best Place for Veterans,” visit the OVMA website at veterans.syr.edu.