Honoring the U’s Veterans

James Cunningham was deployed to Iraq for 15 months — when he returned to the United States, he was awarded the Veteran of the Year Award by the U.

Cunningham was the first to receive the Veteran of the Year Award during the 2011-2012 academic year. Cunningham pursued a business degree at the U and was nominated for the award by his professors. After returning from Iraq, he served other veterans through Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The Veteran of the Year Award for the 2014-2015 academic year will be determined by Oct. 31, 2014 and will be presented during the U’s Veterans Day Commemoration Ceremony on Nov. 11, 2014 at 11 a.m.

This award grants the recipient $1,000, an engraved medallion and an engraved plaque to be displayed in the Veterans Support Center.

Eligible nominees must have served in the military or be currently serving, must have shown excellent service in the community and maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA.

Brent Taylor was the recipient during the 2012-2013 academic year. Taylor served in the National Guard in 2003 as counterintelligence.

Taylor volunteered for deployment in Iraq in 2007 and continued his deployment in Baghdad as senior advisor to the Iraqi Directorate of Strategic Human Intelligence.

His services earned him the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Iraq and Afghanistan Campaign medals and the Combat Action Badge.

Last year, the award went to Mike Cumming, an Iraq war veteran.

Cumming said he experienced problems with trust upon his return from his deployment. He became involved in rock climbing to build up his trust once more. Then he started a nonprofit organization at the U called Operation Climb On, an eight week rock climbing course for veterans and their families.

Sylvia O’Hara, executive assistant in the Veterans Support Center, said the award was created to “bring awareness and bring visibility for student veterans on campus.”

O’Hara said there are about 950 student veterans on campus. She said people should be reminded that these veterans are “peers” despite the stereotype of a veteran being “an elderly man who served in WWII.”

Alex Payne, a junior in Chinese, said this award is important because it promotes awareness.

Payne said an award like this encourages student veterans to be a part of the community again. He also said it would especially benefit veterans who come back fighting mental illness.

“They should be honored,” Payne said, “in any way they can.”

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