Few bonds are as strong as those created by the shared experience of having served in the United States military.
The shared experience of a St. Ambrose education is one that might come close.
On the eve of Veterans Day 2017, current members of the St. Ambrose Military and Veterans Organization (MAVO) joined with Natalie Woodhurst '15, an Air Force veteran and the coordinator of SAU's Office for Veterans Recruitment and Services, to reach out to fellow veterans and alumni of previous generations.
Cecillia Nichols, an SAU nursing major and Army veteran who served two years as a combat medic in Iraq, discovered in the process of interviewing fellow Army veteran Calvin Cooper '06, '13 MCJ just how profoundly connected they are by their shared experiences.
"I am so happy to have had the chance to participate," Nichols said of the opportunity to profile Cooper, the SAU associate director of security who served 22 years in the Army and was part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. "We were able to share things that we both truly understood on so many levels. These things do make a person feel welcomed and at home, so to speak.
"This feeling of home was a main ingredient in his conversation because this is what means so much to Calvin about St. Ambrose," she added. "We lose so many veterans to suicide each day because they feel as if they do not have a home. Obviously, I am not speaking about a physical home but one that is felt when you connect to someone where you no longer have to have a wall up. A home where you can truly be yourself and feel accepted simply because there is an understanding of the things that you deal with and have sacrificed while in the military."
Veterans have felt at home at St. Ambrose since shortly after World War II, when hundreds of former soldiers began making use of the GI Bill of Rights. It was called the "law that changed America," and use of the GI Bill's educational benefits swelled the number of students at St. Ambrose and necessitated the erection of barracks housing in the area that now serves as the Galvin Fine Arts Center parking lot. Within two years of the war's end, an additional 27 faculty were hired.
Veterans have continued to turn to St. Ambrose to start or enrich their next chapters. This fall, 54 veterans are earning college degrees with the aid of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and a total of 85 current undergraduate and graduate students identify as veterans. Close to 40 students are members of the SAU MAVO chapter, and Woodhurst said veterans here feel the support of their fellow students and the Ambrosian community. Three themed off-campus houses have chosen MAVO as their cause this year and the first in a series of Veterans Appreciation Days will be held during the women's and men's basketball doubleheader on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
"This is a community that is truly welcoming to veterans," said Woodhurst.
For the profile project, Woodhurst interviewed John Sullivan '67, who enlisted in the Naval Reserves after graduating from St. Ambrose. He spent a year in Vietnam and has spent much of his adult life in Asia using business skills he learned at St. Ambrose.
"Hearing from Mr. Sullivan cemented what I have already experienced during my time as an Ambrosian," she said. "The lessons we learn during our academic career find a way of seeping into our lives when we might least expect it.
"St. Ambrose University thanks all of the Ambrosians who participated in this project. On Veterans Day, we also honor the service of these veterans and all of the veterans who have found a home at St. Ambrose through the years.
Read profiles about veteran by veterans at the links below.