News | August 23, 2022

Campus LifeFeaturedNewsStudent Success

As student veterans at FGCU, united they stand

Contributors: James Greco, Photography

“Thank you for your service.” It is a phrase many have said, and many have heard. Veterans returning home from active duty are revered for their selflessness and dedication and valued for their work ethic, discipline, leadership and mental toughness.  However, the transition for veterans, specifically those returning to college to pursue academic goals, can be challenging.

BATTLE OF THE BRANCHES

  • WHAT: Veterans, friends, family and everyone who supports FGCU’s vets are welcome. Games will include a relay race, cornhole, tug of war and more. Food will be served.
  • WHEN: 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27
  • WHERE: Estero Park, 9200 Corkscrew Palms Blvd, Estero
  • RSVP: Online

Following the 20-year war in Afghanistan, universities across the country saw an influx of students returning home from military service. Most veteran students returning to the classroom were older, with a world of experience under their belt, and many colleges were not adequately prepared to accommodate their unique needs.

Student Veterans of America was established in 2008 to connect veteran students with other students who served and help with the transition into their next phase of life. In 2022, FGCU’s new office of Military Student Success (MVS) department gathered FGCU student veterans and helped them establish an SVA chapter on campus. This chapter has already made a great impact for students, families and the community.

“This community has been overwhelmingly supportive of what we are trying to do,” said Ronny Fray Regato, chapter president. Through multiple initiatives and group events, the SVA offers student veterans a community to create meaningful relationships with other veterans, networking and career opportunities, and activities and initiatives to enhance their time on campus.

According to Armando Hernandez, a 2014 exercise science graduate, these initiatives are a tremendous opportunity and invaluable to veteran students. Having been a veteran student himself, he knows transitioning to student life can be extremely difficult.

photo shows FGCU student veteran with horse
Ronny Fray Regato leads a horse at Operation Strides, which partnered SVA members with horses to work on horsemanship skills, build interconnectedness and promote communication and confidence.

“I suffered from sleeplessness, nightmares, social isolation. My goal was to just get done what had to get done and get out,” Hernandez said.

That’s when he turned to exercise. What started as a small habit developed into his life’s passion. Upon graduation, Hernandez helped pilot a program for Home Base, a free 90-day health and wellness program for veterans and their families, in partnership with FGCU. Participants had access to Marieb College of Health & Human Services’ exercise and rehabilitation facilities.

“Exercise is the least stigmatizing way into self-care,” Hernandez said. “It is very difficult to convince someone to see a clinician, but you can convince them to work out with fellow vets.” Over the last eight years, Home Base has helped 400-500 veterans, and Hernandez credits much of the success to the partnership with FGCU.

Home Base and the SVA are just two of the many opportunities FGCU offers veteran students. In spring 2022, the group assisted the Office of Military and Veteran Success to host the first SWFL Veterans Expo hosted by FGCU with CareerSource to help spread awareness of local resources and opportunities available to post 9/11 veterans.  This expo included local and national employers such as Lee Health, Arthrex, Gartner and Amazon Military.

photo shows student veteran with horse
Payton DeMay was among the FGCU student veterans at Operation Strides.

Earlier this month, the group hosted a day at Operation Strides, partnering veteran students with horses to work on horsemanship skills, build interconnectedness and promote communication and confidence. The SVA chapter kicks off the fall semester with a Battle of the Branches in Estero Park on Aug. 27 and with a new veterans’ lounge on the third floor of the Bradshaw Library.

One current veteran student, Carlos Machado, said, “One of my favorite aspects of being a member of SVA here at FGCU is the exposure to diverse experiences, volunteer opportunities and people met in the process. There is always a social event taking place for veterans, families and supporters of veterans on and off campus.”

With plans to host monthly group activities, a Memorial Day 5k and other events throughout the year, the SVA chapter is not slowing down. They plan to continue to connect veterans, students and the community to enhance the experiences of these heroes who have already given so much.