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Honoring Veterans Year-Round

Like others, we paid tribute in the past week to our veterans and their service to our country. But Old Dominion University's commitment to the military runs deep and extends year-round.

It began many decades ago when our school, then the two-year Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, opened the Aircraft Instruments Institute to train students for service during World War II. Now, one-quarter of our student body is affiliated in some way with the military, and we are regularly listed in the Military Times' Best of Vets category for four-year schools.

Old Dominion's Veterans Business Outreach Center, now based in downtown Norfolk, offers free entrepreneurial assistance. On campus, we are proud of our Veterans Lounge - with study areas, cyber lounge and a conference room - which was recently renamed the Military Affiliated Community Lounge to make it available to more students.

There's something else that ties Old Dominion to the military: our mutual appreciation for diversity. At our Veterans Day ceremony last Thursday, our student veteran speaker, Sonya Williams, a senior who served in the Navy for eight years and is now a military spouse, focused on that point.

"We don't all look the same," she said. "Some have sacrificed more than others. But in the end, we're all family."

During that observance, I recalled the legacy of Capt. Dick Whalen, the University's first director of military activities, who died in August.

Under his leadership, the number of students in our Army and Navy ROTC grew 300 percent, making the units among the largest in the country. And Dick initiated some of the traditions in our Veterans Day ceremony, including our Old Glory flag passing presentation.

This is the time when we also recognize those who lost their lives in service to our country. Sadly, one of our own Monarchs was killed in action this past year.

Sgt. 1st Class Zack Beale, a criminal justice major who graduated in 2008, died in combat in Afghanistan in January. He was 32 years old.

Beale was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Fort Bragg, and was the weapons sergeant on his team. His wife, Lindsey, a 2010 graduate, said he was passionate about serving in the Army and was devoted to his colleagues and his family.

During Old Dominion's ceremony last week, we also recognized our Wounded Warriors. One will tell his story here next week as part of our President's Lecture Series.

Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills lost parts of both legs and arms in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive.

Less than a year and a half after the explosion, he founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit that benefits wounded and injured veterans. In his New York Times best-selling book, "Tough as They Come," Mills recounts his difficult recovery and his ability to continue swimming, dancing and riding mountain bikes.

He will speak in the Big Blue Room at Ted Constant Convocation Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19. His talk is free and open to the public. I invite you to join us to learn more from this inspiring veteran.

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