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Armed Forces Recognition Day honors
those who died fighting war on terror
Nov. 9, 2012
The Community College of Rhode Island has the largest number of student veterans of any college or university in the state, so it was fitting that the college would host an event for Veterans Day.
The second annual CCRI Armed Forces Recognition Day took place on Nov. 8 at the CCRI Newport County Campus. The CCRI Student Veterans Organization (SVO), active-duty military personnel, members of the public and members of the CCRI community gathered together for a ceremony to commemorate the 27 Rhode Islanders who have given their lives in the war on terror. The SVO also dedicated a plaque in honor of the fallen to be installed outside of the Newport campus.
R.I. Air National Guard Sgt. Anthony Paolino, the college’s veterans coordinator and adviser to the SVO, also announced the opening of four new veteran service offices at CCRI, one on each campus. These offices will assist student veterans with issues such as activating their education benefits under the GI Bill and navigating the government’s online program for veterans to claim their benefits.
But the main purpose of the day was to honor those veterans who could not be in attendance: Rhode Island’s fallen 27.
U.S. Army Chaplain Lt. Col. (Ret.) Lee Hardgrove, who led a prayer, said, “In my 35 years in the ministry, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was knock on a door and tell someone’s mother or spouse that their loved one had been killed or seriously wounded in action.”
Lynn St. Germain-Lundh knows what it is like to receive one of these somber visits. She was in attendance in honor of her son, Sgt. Brian R. St. Germain of West Warwick, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. U.S. Marine Corps volunteers for a special flag detail, immaculately uniformed, presented an American flag to her in a solemn official ceremony. St. Germain-Lundh accepted on behalf of all of Rhode Island’s Gold Star parents (the Gold Star is the traditional symbol of a soldier or sailor killed in battle).
“The debt that our country owes to these 27 men and women can never be repaid,” said CCRI SVO Vice President Michael Steiner in closing the ceremony. “… but we can make sure that their memory and legacy go far into the future.”
The event’s keynote speaker, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. William Wando of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, said that the student veterans in attendance should provide “lifelong service” to their country through academic and professional success and leadership. Only a fraction of Americans pursue higher education and a much smaller number go into the service, he said. This gives the student veterans an opportunity to be leaders and share a unique point of view.
“You are an extremely small fraction but you are an extremely important voice,” he said. “You all provide important leadership in your community.”
CCRI Vice President for Business Affairs Bob Shea, who is a retired U.S. Navy captain, shared a similar message.
He said it may be hard for civilian hiring managers to understand the value of the experience that veterans gain through their service, and that a higher education remains the path to advancement in the civilian world.
“Acceptance to college isn’t the goal; graduation is,” he said. “Your education is now your mission. Accomplish that mission.”
Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop and Rep. Raymond Gallison Jr., Chairman of the R.I. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also spoke at the event. Both officials thanked the veterans and military members in attendance and paid tribute to those who did not return from their service.
The veterans in attendance represented several generations of service, from the World War II and Vietnam eras to today’s international war on terrorism. Joe Steiner, father of Michael Steiner and a veteran of the Vietnam War, attended with his wife, Edna, and son, Joe Jr.
“We’ve been following Mike everywhere since he went into the Navy when he was 18,” he said. “We’re quite proud of all the men and women in the service … I’d like to personally thank them all and shake their hands if I could.”