Veterans Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of veterans and the services available to them at NAU.
For Pete Yanka, honoring veterans is a year-round responsibility—and a privilege. So every year on Veterans Day, November 11, the director of NAU’s office of Veteran and Military Services works hard to make sure that everyone on campus can reflect on the contributions veterans make to American life. In 2021, Veterans Day activities on campus spanned an entire week, and included a Veterans Appreciation Dinner; a flag tribute featuring Rick Yazzie performing the Veterans Indigenous Drum Song; and a ceremony honoring US military prisoners-of-war and missing-in-action service members, presented by US Air Force and US Army ROTC cadets.
“Veterans Day to me personally is a day to say thank you for veterans’ commitment to the greater good in our communities, in the region, and in our nation,” Yanka said. “It’s a humble way to honor those who have committed to something that we all benefit from.”
In a November 10 email message, NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera echoed that sentiment, writing, “We are grateful for the sacrifice and service of the veterans, their families, and all our military-connected students, staff, and faculty.” The email also included a call-out to Yanka’s team: “In my time at NAU, I have been impressed by the dedication and services provided by our Veteran Success Center, which helps students find resources, navigate their educational journey, and connect with other veterans—all with the support of a dedicated and talented staff.”
Veterans Day activities on campus represent just a tiny fraction of NAU’s commitment to supporting its military-connected students.
NAU student veteran Brandon Hutton wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life after leaving the US Army in 2018. He hadn’t planned to pursue higher education. Still, he was attracted to the amenities of small, outdoorsy Flagstaff, and soon decided he would give NAU a try. It wasn’t an easy transition, he said, but with support from the Veteran Success Center, he’s on track to graduate in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in History and a minor in Chinese.
“They helped me by giving me guidance about anything in the school as well as getting tutoring sessions. But most importantly, it’s a place where I can relax and have someone to talk to.”
That’s precisely the way Yanka and his staff intend for the space to function.
“We serve as a hub,” Yanka said. “But we’re also able to get them connected with resources, not only within our department, but throughout the entire university, that help them succeed.”
Veteran Jeremy Musgrove is living proof that the model works. Musgrove graduated in spring 2021 with a BS in Environmental Sciences and a BA in Spanish. Now, he’s still here at NAU, working as an education coach and campus coordinator for the Institute for Human Development. However, like Hutton’s, his transition from military to academic life wasn’t without challenge. He credits the Veteran Success Center with giving him the support he needed.
Musgrove left the US Marine Corps in 2016 and immediately enrolled at NAU. “I was forced to mature at a very young age,” he said. “At 21 years old, I led troops into overseas operations. To come to NAU and be in classes where you have these young adults who still look like children to me, and still haven’t experienced life yet, it was really hard to find common ground and connections.”
An email from Yanka’s office inviting Musgrove on a river trip with fellow veterans served as a lifeline. This annual river trip is a chance for new students to meet other vets at NAU. “It was an excellent opportunity to ask questions and get connected with folks who have been down that path already,” Musgrove said. During the trip, other students encouraged him to come to the Veteran Success Center. That connection became the foundation of Musgrove’s success as a student, providing him with a supportive community. “It was a great environment. There’s usually a good conversation going on, somebody telling jokes, and a lot of ping-pong. It’s a place where vets can really be themselves.”
In addition to the friendships he found at the Veteran Success Center, Musgrove said it was also a place where he learned about all kinds of campus events and opportunities. Again, this is the result of Yanka and his team’s vision.
The Veteran Success Center serves as a landing spot within the university. But we also see it as a launching point to get involved with the broader NAU community.Pete Yanka
Musgrove cautioned that while there are numerous services available to NAU student veterans, personal engagement is the key to success. “There’s a ton of services out there—the Veteran Success Center is one. But if you refuse to walk through those doors, you don’t take the time to go and talk to them about those services and take it upon yourself to explore those and reach out, you’re just going to be spinning your wheels. You have to self-advocate.”
NAU has a long history of supporting student veterans. For eight consecutive years, the university has been on the Military Times’ Best for Vets list. Military Times also listed NAU as one of the top ten colleges for veterans in the country in 2021.
“NAU is such a great place for veterans,” Musgrove said. “The foundation for that is the Veteran Success Center and all the strides they’ve taken to help enrich that experience, to give you access to the tools you need to be successful in higher education, and then transition from there into the professional world.”
Veterans Day history and meaning
Veterans Day is a national holiday in the United States, observed annually on November 11. According to Brittanica.com, the holiday honors “veterans of the armed forces and those killed in the country’s wars. The observance originated in 1919 on the first anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I and was known as Armistice Day. November 11 became an official national holiday in the United States in 1938. In 1954 the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor those who had served in all US wars.”
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
“Well, I’m a humble civilian. So it’s a true blessing to serve in this role. Veterans Day, to me personally, is a day to say thank you for veterans’ commitment to the greater good in our communities, in the region, and in our nation. It’s a humble way to honor those who have committed to something that we all benefit from.”
“For me, Veteran’s Day is my day to do what I want. I’m going on a backpacking trip this year. I’m going to be with another veteran buddy. But it’s really taking time to appreciate the efforts that were made. Not necessarily the sacrifices, because that’s for Memorial Day, but the efforts that were made by those who served in the military and just taking a little bit of time to acknowledge that we’re afforded a lot of the privileges and things that we have in this country because of those efforts.”
“Never forget those who serve and remember those who are currently serving.”