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Conference Helps Veterans, Community

Paralympian swimmer and veteran Brad Snyder in the pool at the 2012 London Paralympics

Paralympian swimmer and veteran Brad Snyder in the pool at the 2012 London Paralympics

January 2017

Higher education institutions in the Quad Cities are helping veterans transition from military to civilian life while also helping the community better understand this unique population.

"Bridging the Divide" is the theme of the annual Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois Veterans Conference, scheduled March 1 at the Rogalski Center. The event is hosted by the St. Ambrose Office for Veterans Recruitment and Services in partnership with Eastern Iowa Community College District, Black Hawk College and Western Illinois University Quad Cities.

The conference will include a resource fair, panel discussion on the transition from military service to civilian life and a keynote address by Brad Snyder, a Navy veteran who lost his vision in combat in Afghanistan and since has won seven medals as a Paralympic swimmer.

SAU's coordinator of Veterans Recruitment and Services, Natalie Woodhurst, said the resource fair will focus on needs and issues pertinent to veterans. Local, state and national organizations and nonprofits who assist veterans will be on hand to discuss their programs, including Humility of Mary Valor Program, which helps veterans with short- and long-term housing; and Artist Vault, a new gallery SAU alumni Ken Cunningham ‘16 and Julie Wall ‘16 are opening that will offer free art classes to veterans. Other organizations participating include Operation Engage America and the American Legion.

The panel discussion, "Service and Sacrifice on Two Fronts - Reflections of Veterans and Spouses" will begin at 1 p.m. Brian Hilton, PhD, an instructor of History at Scott Community College, will moderate the discussion. The panel includes Robert Fitts, a Korean War veteran; David Woods, a Vietnam War veteran; Stephen Henson, a veteran of both Vietnam and Iraq; Allison Hemmert, the spouse of a career military member; and Jennifer Watkins-Schoenig, OIF/OEF, Veterans Affairs Director for Muscatine County.

"The panel members will share their experience and perspective on transitioning to civilian life, how it was and what they went through," Woodhurst said.

At 2:30 p.m., keynote speaker Snyder will share his story about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. "His message does not only apply to veterans. It is a great story for everyone to hear," Woodhurst said.

All veterans are encouraged to attend. 

The resource fair and registration begin at noon. The program begins at 12:45 p.m. All events will be held in the Grand Ballroom and Gottlieb Conference room on the third floor of the Rogalski Center on North Ripley Street.

Admission is free but registration is encouraged at Light refreshments will be served during the break.

Snyder was voted the 2016 Male Athlete of the U.S. Paralympic team after winning three golds and one silver medals at the Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, where he competed in swimming. Following graduation, he completed Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer Training, Navy Dive School, EOD School and Army Airborne School.

He served his first tour in combat in 2008 in Iraq and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. He was severely injured when he encountered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) buried in the ground. Although he recovered from other wounds, Snyder did not recover his vision.

Swimming was part of his rehabilitation process and in just a matter of months, he earned a spot on the United States Paralympics team. In London in 2012, he won two golds and one silver medal. He retired from service in 2013.

In Brazil this past September, Snyder won those three golds and one silver and broke a 30-year-old world record in the 100 meter freestyle swim.

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