In a ceremony marking Veterans Day, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Devon D. Nieve was awarded UMGC’s Gen. John W. Vessey Student Veteran of the Year while Army Gen. Lloyd Milo Miles (Ret.), the university’s senior vice president for Global Military Operations, and Maryland State Sen. William C. Smith vividly reflected on the meaning of the War in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal.
In his eight years in the Corps, Nieve balanced his military career while at the same time completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting summa cum laude and jumping right into a master’s program in Intelligence Management that he expects to finish next year.
Nieve talked about the rigor as well as the opportunities to working toward degrees while serving in demanding military assignments and deployments. UMGC, he said, made that possible.
Advanced education is essential for up-and-coming military personnel, Nieve said, “to provide the innovation, the ingenuity, the new approach to the problems that we face today. “t’s absolutely necessary in future wars.”
Not only will that education help him in his military career, but it will be essential as he makes the transition to civilian life.
He donated his $3000 in scholarship money that came with the award to a UMGC fund that helps veterans who have exhausted their VA benefits to extend their education.
In opening the ceremony, UMGC President Gregory W. Fowler spoke of the importance of the university’s relationship with the U.S. military.
“Today, as we honor the students, alumni, faculty and staff who have won the uniform of our country, and say thank you to all of our nation’s veterans, we are grateful for the many ways our relationship with the military has shaped our institution, clarified our mission and inspired us every day to live lives of service of honor, and have courage,” he said.
The Veterans Day ceremony was the first since the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to take over control of the government after 20 years of fighting. A subtext for this year’s event centered on whether the fighting, bloodshed and cost were worth it.
Army Gen. Lloyd Milo Miles (Ret.), UMGC’s senior vice president for Global Military Operations, said he wrestled with this, but concluded the struggle and sacrifice were worth it.
“I hope that someday when you take the long view of your life, you will remember the good you tried to do in that land of terrible beauty,” he said. “The roads you constructed, and the wells you dug and the schools you built. And you will remember the excitement of the children as you handed out candy and the tear-filled eyes of a mother as you gave her something to eat.”
The historians and politicians will debate the ultimate worth of the struggle, he said.
“During your time in the crucible, you did your duty, to care for one another, to help the oppressed and defended the weak,” he said. “You fought for your friends and you helped people. From my perspective, that would be a good epitaph on any tombstone.”
In his keynote address, Sen. William C. Smith, who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and is now an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, agreed that those who served in Afghanistan should be proud of their accomplishments.
“Today, despite the current state of the country, every service member can hold their head high, knowing that we kept the United States safe for over two decades, and we unleashed unparalleled opportunity for millions of Afghans that they’d never seen before. Those ideas and that energy have taken root and will not die off quickly. Our service has made a difference.”
The ceremony featured a poignant video honoring the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, which included historical and personal perspective from Lillian Pfluke (U.S. Army, Ret.), a UMGC faculty member and founder of the American War Memorials Overseas, and Timothy French, a UMGC alum and sergeant in the U.S. Army’s Old Guard Caisson Platoon, which helps perform funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
To view the entire UMGC Veterans Day Ceremony, click HERE.