About 40 people gathered in the Marvin Center Great Hall Friday for GW’s 10th annual wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate Veterans Day.
The keynote speaker at the event – which honored past, current and future veterans – was Carlos Kizzee, the executive director of the Defense Security Information Exchange and a former Marine Corps deputy area counsel in Okinawa, Japan. Kizzie was joined by University President Thomas LeBlanc, who spoke about the veteran community at GW.
LeBlanc thanked the military-affiliated student population at the University for “the spirit, the vibrancy, the expertise and the service ethic” they bring to GW. More than 1,800 students comprise the University’s military-affiliated population, according to the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services.
He commended the University for its No. 19 ranking in the Military Times’ most recent list of colleges and universities that are “Best for Vets.” GW cracked the top 20 this year for the first time after falling for two years in a row.
“We’re committed to continuing this tradition of ensuring the military and veteran student access and success here at GW,” LeBlanc said.
Kizzee spoke about the purpose of Veterans Day — to honor soldiers and veterans who “are here today, still living” — and contrasted it with Memorial Day, which he said commemorates those who have died.
He called on the audience to recognize and support veterans regardless of their political beliefs about war and conflict.
“Let’s never, ever forget, no matter how we may feel about politics and reasons and rationale, that we are talking about people,” he said.
Kizzee said Veterans Day is a time to focus on the “reintegration” of soldiers into civilian life. He said it is not only the responsibility of the government to ensure that veterans are successfully reintegrated after service, but it is also a task for everyday citizens.
“Every one of us is responsible for that neighbor, that friend, that person sitting in the pew next to us in our institution of worship or that coworker,” he said. “Every one of us is responsible for that reintegration.”
Kizzee said another focus of Veterans Day is about supporting young people who plan to join the military.
“There are people among us who are preparing to make that sacrifice, who are hearing that call to serve their country,” he said. “We need to remember them and we need to support them.”
Kizzee urged people not to doubt their decision to join the military because of a lack of diversity, adding that “a nation whose military does not reflect the nation is a huge liability.”
“If you are thinking about the military as a possible future career option, and you’re worried that the military does not reflect or may not reflect you, let me tell you, don’t view that as a threat or a concern, but view that as a call,” he said.
Colin Pate, a senior studying aerospace engineering and the vice president of the GW Veterans, said that, for him, Veterans Day is “a time to give back and give respect to the people in my life who have given me the opportunity to serve.”
“I think it’s really important for ROTC students, for students at universities in general, to meet with veterans and speak with veterans,” he said. “It’s a very valuable perspective that we need to keep us grounded when we’re making tough political decisions.”