By DYLAN SMITH, News Reporter
MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS 3) — Western Illinois University’s roots in the military go deep. After the legendary Col. Ray “Rock” Hanson served almost 40 years at WIU, and about as much time in the Marine Corps, Western has embraced military traditions and symbols that are still in place today.
WIU has announced Military Appreciation week will be celebrated Nov. 7 through Nov. 13. Scheduled events include a “battle of the branches” bench press competition, a virtual 5K race, group discussions and much more. Among the group discussions will be one about diversity in the military and another about jobs and military assistance for civilian authorities.
In the military, diversity refers to ethnicity, race and gender, but with diversity comes an abundance of different skills that each service member brings to the table. In addition to diversity, selflessness is a strong characteristic of the U.S. military. Despite the combination of service members who each have their own unique background, everyone is treated with the same respect.
“We’re all a big team,” WIU freshman and National Guard member, Gabe Crook said. “The Army is a huge team, and if you are not supporting your teammates the whole thing falls apart. It’s a big machine. Once you sign that dotted line, you are like everyone else. The drill sergeants treat you the same, everybody treats you the same.
Service members come together as strangers and put their lives in the hands of each other. They have each other’s back, and even after the fight is over, the well being of one another is still top priority.
“What humbled me is when I was dealing with wounded veterans in Fallujah in the military hospital,” WIU Veteran Resource Center Director, Ron Pettigrew, said. “When I would see them, normally, the first words out of their mouth would always be one of five things: Where’s my sergeant? Where’s my corporel? Did Johnny make it? Chaps, I gotta go back? How do I take care of so and so? It was about anybody and everybody, but themselves. What you see in the military is they get a concept of being part of something greater than themselves.”
Pettigrew, who has 14 years of active duty under his belt, and another 18 years in the reserve, has been deployed overseas five times and has also seen combat. Pettigrew is currently a military chaplain, and director of the WIU Veterans Resource Center.
“Unity through diversity and service represents maturity and strength,” Pettigrew said. “Part of what I currently see is we are allowing diversity to separate us rather than come together like we are in the military.”
Diversity has proven to be essential in both the military and society, and shows that when we come together, we are stronger. Our strength lies in our differences and not our similarities.
The Veterans Resource Center is committed to helping anyone who has served, or is currently serving, in the U.S. military. The center provides services and resources in a one-stop location to ensure that all veterans and service members are afforded the greatest opportunities for success.
The Veterans Resource Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 309-298-3505 to learn more. A full list of Military Appreciation Week activities can be found at http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=17312.