Saturday, December 14, 2013

Around Town: Student veterans and the future

Because La Cañada doesn't have a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11, my husband, Len, and I have joined the four-city Pasadena Veterans Day 2013 Committee.

It's a four-city committee because its members come from Pasadena, La Cañada, South Pasadena and San Marino, what our son, Andrew, used to call “the bubble.
The bubble is a magic place where kids grow up as part of an interlocking circle of schools, public and private; the parents know each other from Indian Guides, Gollatz Cotillion or AYSO, and the police occasionally stop a kid asking to take a look at the original engine in a vintage Cougar. Most kids learn to ride a bike, roller skate or drive a car in between the baby strollers at the Rose Bowl. Halloween is still a community-wide event, and there are lots of parades.

The Veterans Day Committee is awesome because it includes members of the Navy League, USS Pasadena Foundation, John Watkins, two former Pasadena mayors, a couple of PCC professors and lots of veterans and lawyers. Everyone pitches in.

If you don't know Watkins, come meet him on Nov. 11 at 9:30 a.m. in front of Pasadena City Hall. There'll be free parking. Watkins is an 88-year-old dynamo who keeps me on my toes. He'll be the emcee for this year's event, which honors our local community college, PCC.

PCC deserves kudos because it has consistently ranked No. 1 in the state (and seventh in the nation) as veteran-friendly campus. Credit goes to veterans coordinator Patricia D'Orange-Martin and her caseworker, Carol Calandra, who are selflessly committed to creating a successful and supportive environment for PCC's student veterans.

D'Orange-Martin and Calandra do important work. It is estimated that by the end of 2014, there will be two million young civilian veterans of these long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2015, one million of these veterans will be enrolled in college.

It's not an easy road. V.A. benefits and work-study programs are complex and unpredictable, so there's a small but predictable number of homeless student veterans. The transition to civilian life requires patience, and hitting the books can be tough. D'Orange-Martin and Calandra have collaborated with numerous private organizations to provide resources for these young vets.

So it was no surprise to run into D'Orange-Martin, Calandra and others at last Saturday's American Legion Halloween party in honor of the Cal State student veterans. Some V.A. counselors came, as well as faculty from Cal State and PCC.

The costumes were amazing. Lots of vampires, genies and ghouls. One couple dressed as reporters, complete with hats, vintage cameras and press passes. There was a D.J., candy and pizza, but the best part was the camaraderie between Vietnam veterans and the student veterans.

As we go to press today, Oct. 31, it is the 10th anniversary of the death of LCHS grad 1st Lt. Todd Bryant, U.S. Army, killed in Iraq. I keep a photo of Todd, in his West Point uniform, on my desk at work. In spring of 1998, when Todd left for West Point and our Andrew left for Annapolis, our nation was at peace. We never dreamed that Todd and Andrew would die within a few months of one another, one from war and one from cancer.

It's for Todd and Andrew that Len and I volunteer for our vets. Both Todd and Andrew cared about their soldiers and Marines. Time rolls on. It always will, but these young student veterans are our nation's future.

Valley Sun

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