Stephen Ollar

 

Airforce ROTC students stand in front of the tower during a ceremony honoring Veterans Day on the South mall Monday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

ROTC students take down the American flag and the Prisoner of War flag on the South mall Monday afternoon. Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff  

 

Student members of UT’s ROTC programs stood in formation as the flag raised over South Mall during a Veterans Day ceremony Monday.

The ceremony was a joint effort between the Texas Army, Navy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in order to pay tribute to the men and women that served in the United States Armed Forces.

“It’s important to pay attention to a sacrifice someone has made for you,“ Stephen Ollar, president of the Student Veteran Association and economics senior, said.

He said being a veteran is something to be proud of. He served in the Army before attending UT and, through the association, tries to make life as students easier for veterans at UT.  

“We try to help veterans find friends, find a source of communication, something that can help them from going into some of the pitfalls of being a veteran: the isolation, the loneliness, the suicide that can come with being a veteran,”  Ollar said.

He said it is a common misconception that all veterans suffer from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-service disorders. He said it is easier to relate with people that have been through similar experiences.

Benjamin Armstrong, coordinator of Student Veteran Services, served as a Marine and said he has worked with 1,947 of UT’s student veterans through the Student Veteran Services office. Student Veteran Services opened on Veterans Day 2011 and celebrated its first anniversary Sunday.

“We are a one-stop shop on campus for veterans and their dependents to access this institution and understand how it works,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he is a natural fit for his position, because as a veteran he can connect with student veterans and help them get all the benefits for which they are eligible.

“I give them the lay of the land and a safe haven. The Student Veteran Association gives them that group of fellow travelers to be social with,” Armstrong said.

Lee Leffingwell, Austin mayor and Navy veteran, spoke at the ceremony about his experience during Aviation Officer Training School. He said 40 years later, he still remembers two of his sergeant instructors, who died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. He said the lessons they taught him transferred from active duty into his life as a veteran.

“For my years of experience as mayor and retired Navy commander, I believe that the values you develop and will continue to develop will continue through aspects of your life,” Leffingwell said.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Kopser, commanding officer of Texas Army ROTC, said it is thrilling to watch young students choose a life of service in the Armed Forces when they join one of UT’s ROTC programs.

“It is a huge honor to watch young people raise their right hand to join the United States Armed Forces during a time of war and take an oath to preserve the United States,” Kopser said.

Printed on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 as: Time of appreciation

Event coordinator for the Student Veterans Association Tania Nesser and nutrition senior Amanda Lavers play cornhole at the SVA tailgate Saturday afternoon. Jumbo janga was another popular game that was played at the tailgating event. 

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

This past Saturday, a group of student veterans enjoyed an afternoon at the Student Veterans Association tailgate. In the burnt orange blur of pre-game festivities, these Longhorns blended in with the rest of the crowd despite the fact they’re actually quite rare. There are approximately 750 veterans studying at UT. Stephen Ollar, SVA president and economics senior, said there were only two veterans in this year’s incoming freshman class of over 8,000, which means that the number of veterans on campus is, at least for now, staying small.

Small, however, doesn’t necessarily mean close-knit. UT doesn’t “flag” students as veterans in the same way that it doesn’t list students’ hometown or ethnicity in the directory. This makes it difficult for veterans at UT to identify each other. Ollar said he has “sporadically met a few” ex-military students in his classes but that “a lot of veterans don’t identify themselves as such.” Organizations like the SVA, which seeks to support veterans and the dependents of veterans in the UT community, play a crucial role in helping veterans find a community at the 40 Acres.

Members of the SVA community, including Ollar and government and history senior Steven Denman, claimed a small patch of grass just north of the stadium for their tailgate.

Before coming to UT, Ollar and Denman were both stationed with the Army in Ft. Richardson, Alaska. Now they are both working toward law school. Denman, originally from Michigan, said he chose to come to UT after leaving the Army because of Austin’s warm weather — and because he felt that the “pro-liberal” Austin culture would give him the “perspective of the left, the middle and the right” that the military lacked.

Ollar, in contrast, is a lifelong Texan and a second-time UT student. Ollar was born and raised in Midlothian, a small town outside of Dallas. After earning a cell and molecular biology degree from UT, he joined the Army. Now he is back at UT to earn an economics degree after finding that “there’s not a lot of options available for veterans.” 

As they drank and talked, the two men revealed the difficulties of rejoining civilian life as a student. The social life of a student veteran, Ollar said, can be “lonely — an uphill battle.”

“You leave your whole life,” Ollar said. “The Army buys you a ticket and you start your life over again.”

The traditional social scenes at UT are also largely closed off to veterans. Though Ollar said that some student veterans join organizations like pre-professional fraternities or educational clubs, they don’t always feel welcome. 

But for many of UT’s student veterans, the same life experience that hinders their integration into student life influences their academic pursuits. Middle Eastern studies senior Christi Crews joined the Navy at 18 after the emotional turmoil of her first love being killed in Iraq. After leaving the Navy, she “decided to educate [herself] about the Middle East instead.”

In the Middle Eastern studies program at UT, Crews has “learned to love and appreciate the [Middle Eastern] culture for what it is … and to negotiate and find middle ground and common interests with people who have different opinions.” Crews says she hasn’t had trouble making friends at UT but admits that she doesn’t “fit into that 18, 19, 20-year-old student category.”

Looking around the tailgate, Crews said most of her friends are from the SVA.

The SVA holds tailgates for every home game and Ollar said about 80 people attended the event throughout the day. Although most attendees are veterans or their acquaintances, Ollar said, “If you love a vet, you’re welcome [to attend].”

Printed on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 as: UT vets unite for football fun