Veterans ‘speak out’ about life, military experiences
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 00:11
Caroline Atkins, professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology at West Virginia University, has found herself teaching rooms full of student-athletes for more than 20 years. But this year, she’s teaching a class unlike any other.
Atkins teaches a class modeled after the Speaking to Communities course specialized for student veterans. These veterans spoke in a public forum titled, "Student Veterans Speak Out" Tuesday at Clear Mountain Bank.
The five veterans enrolled in the course shared stories of their military experiences to inspire future generations.
"How many of you have a friend or family member in the Marines? How many of them are women?" said Donna Stehley, the only female vet in the class and a Morgantown native. Stehley has served for 26 years on reserves and active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Today, 6.2 percent of the Marine Corps is made up of women. However, when she was serving in the ’70s and ’80s, it was not as common.
Stehley told stories about how she was required to participate in the same physical training as men; however, women were not allowed – or authorized – to receive training with rifles. In addition to boot camp, it was also necessary for women attend etiquette and makeup application classes.
"Fire truck-red lipstick was part of the uniform", Stehley said.
Whenever she put on her battle uniform, Stehley said she encountered discrimination.
"The women looked at me in horror, and the men sneered," she said.
Despite the odds, Stehley was able to contribute 26 years to the USMC and was even serving at the same time as her son.
Jason Reffer, a pre-criminology sophomore at WVU, is also a Morgantown native. Reffer has been deployed to Iraq and spent a year in South Korea as a fraud investigator.
He worked for the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in the Air Force. He shared a story about the time he was able to investigate and catch a Department of Defense contractor who stole $1 million from the U.S. government.
Aulton Paul Davis is currently a freshman at the University from Bridgeport, W.Va. He has been sent to places like Washington, DC. to help guard the Marine Barracks, and on one occasion he was also able to guard President Obama and his family.
Davis opened by telling a detailed story of when he and other Marine Corps members were driven to boot camp for the first time.
"Becoming a marine was no joke; this was the real deal," he said.
He continued to share his experience about the rest of boot camp.
"They break you down physically and mentally, and then rebuild you into the man they want you to be," he said.
Before graduation, the recruits must complete "The Crucible," which is a three-day ordeal where participants get one meal a day and two hours of sleep each night – which was usually interrupted. They must then complete a 15-mile hike before being awarded the title of marine.
However, when Davis looks back to boot camp, he said the experience was ultimately beneficial.
"When (you’re) going through the struggles of camp, the struggles of life no longer seem so difficult," he said.
Christopher Morris of Pennsylvania joined the Marine Corps at high school age.
"It’s a tradition in my family to join the military – do your part," he said.
He now works with organizations that try to help soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We are now losing more troops to suicide than in combat due to post-traumatic stress disorder," he said.
Phil D’Bourget served 14 years in the U.S. Army and is both a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran. He is now helping organizations that support disabled veterans.
"You might serve someday, and you might someday need assistance," he said.
Some organizations even assist disabled vets in their homes.
"Shopping, going out to a movie, dinner, whatever," he said, explaining how these organizations offer their assistance.
When asked by a fellow Vietnam vet in the crowd about how he was welcomed home from both wars, D’Bourget got emotional. He recalled one memory from after the 30-hour flight coming home from Desert Storm.
"When we came out of the ramp, there were lines of people there to greet us, three or four deep, waving flags," he said. "They wanted to meet us, shake our hands, tell us we did a good job, and they’re glad we’re home."
To learn more about the class, visit spa.wvu.edu.