Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Since 9/11, there have been numerous reports of military personnel who lost their lives defending our nation’s freedoms. The more it happens, the more their deaths become just a statistic. However, when the number becomes a name, the casualties of war hit a little closer to home, especially when eight of those names are from Moody Air Force Base and the Valdosta area.
Senior Airmen Jason Cunningham, Master Sergeant Michael Maltz and Senior Airman Jason Plite of the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base; Lt. Col. John Stein; 1st Lieutenant Tamara Long Archuleta; Staff Sergeant John Teal and Staff Sergeant Jason Hicks of the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody; Airmen 1st Class LeeBernard Chavis of the 824th Security Forces Squadron at Moody and Staff Sergeant Briand Williams of the U.S. Army were among eight of the 6,625 names that were read on the steps of Valdosta State University's Student Union as a part of the National Roll Call project.
"Today we honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice," said VSU president Dr. Bill McKinney.
As McKinney pointed out, though the program is a small token in comparison to the sacrifice that those individuals and their families made, it is a symbol of gratitude.
"So that we may never, never forget the sacrifices that have been made and will continue to be made so that we may enjoy the freedoms we have before us," said McKinney.
McKinney spoke of freedoms, even quoting the famous speech "For Freedoms" given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During Franklin's third term in 1940, the United States and the world faced a multitude of uncertainty as much of Europe had fallen to the German Army and Great Britain was barely holding on.
In the face of many Americans who wanted to stay out of the war, Roosevelt understood the need to protect freedom and in his annual speech to Congress in 1941, Roosevelt presented the need for the U.S. to fight for the universal freedoms of all people of all the world.
While those uncertainties remain in other forms, America has maintained its position on the protection of freedoms.
"It's all too easy in the academic environment . . . to take those freedoms for granted," said McKinney. "Valdosta State University has never and will never take those freedoms for granted."
VSU's participation in the National Roll Call project, which is held at 93 schools across 37 states, is a testament of their gratitude and their effort to never forget.
The Department of Adult Degree Completion and Military Programs at VSU — which just recently received national recognition in Washington — dedicates itself to those students who are active duty, retired or veterans every day and its director, Gerald Merwin, was present at the ceremony as a demonstration of the departments support.
"We feel strongly about our connection to the military and our veterans in the community," said Merwin. "We want to honor those who served."
VSU's devotion to the military runs so deep that even retirement can't sever the bonds. Former VSU interim president Dr. Louis Levy arrived on campus first thing in the morning.
"I wanted to pay tribute to all our fallen soldiers as well as salute the military programs at VSU," said Levy.
After the VSU's Air Force ROTC presented the colors and sang the National Anthem, personnel from the Jason D. Cunningham Airman Leadership School at Moody Air Force Base presented a fallen warrior display, known to many in the military as a battlefield cross.
"They are simple, yet powerful reminders that some have given all," said Airman Michael Youngblood.
The fallen warrior display — created with a pair of boots, a rifle, dog tags and a helmet — is a symbolic replacement of a cross on the battlefield or at the base camp for a soldier who has been killed.
Airmen Nathan Geiser, Tim Turner, Samuel Santo and Eric Dahmer assembled the display below the steps of the Student Union and saluted its presence before walking away.
It remained intact as the names were read throughout the day by a total of 56 volunteers, including VSU's first lady Dr. Dacia Charlesworth.
The Remembrance Day National Roll Call is sponsored locally by VSU's chapter of Student Veterans of America (VSU Vets) and nationally by the Veterans Knowledge Community (VKC) of NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
NASPA is a 12,000-member association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs professionals. The VKC’s mission is to advocate for best practices to help student veterans transition to college and succeed.