Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson
Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Veterans and Military Family Members Center Dedication
November 5, 2015
When we think about the role and the contributions of Veterans to our Nation, education has always been a key part of the equation.
I don’t know whether the drafters of the original GI Bill of 1944 had any idea about the impact that their landmark legislation would ultimately have; but now, we know it dramatically reshaped our Nation.
By the time that bill expired in 1956, after 12 years, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II Veterans had been educated.
Historian Milton Greenberg wrote that the original GI Bill enriched America by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and over a million other college educated Veterans.
They, and millions of other vocationally trained and educated Veterans, provided the leadership that catapulted our Nation to global pre-eminence in the second half of the 20th Century.
Today, 15 years into the 21st Century, a new generation of Veterans, many having served in Afghanistan and Iraq, stands ready to assume their place in history.
This generation is every bit as dedicated, and every bit as capable, as those that preceded them. Today, I want to talk to them.
So, what will our Nation do to support your future success, and what will you do to ensure you and your fellow Veterans are successful?
You have shouldered heavy responsibilities for the Nation over the past 14 years. The Post-9/11 GI Bill clearly demonstrates the Nation’s respect and appreciation for your service and sacrifice, much as it did for your grandfathers following World War II.
Americans support you—VA has delivered over $56 billion dollars in taxpayer funds to send nearly 1.5 million Veterans and dependents to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill since 2009.
The President of the United States supports you. In 2009, VA’s budget was 99 billion. The President’s 2016 budget request was for 169 billion—a 70 billion increase to help VA provide the best in programs, services, and benefits for Veterans.
The good people of Tennessee support you! We’re honored to have with us today the Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, John Morgan, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Dr. Russ Deaton, and Tennessee’s Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner, Colonel (Retired) Many-Bears Grinder. They’re here for one reason—they want you to be successful in your educational endeavors and pursuits.
This fine university supports you! That’s why President McPhee is here. That’s why he, and the leadership of MTSU, thought it was important to find and hire an exceptionally talented Senior Advisor for Veterans and Leadership to work for you.
I know he’s exceptional because I’ve known him for four decades—he’s my classmate from West Point, LTG (Retired) Keith Huber. He will work tirelessly as your advocate to ensure every single Veteran and family member at MTSU is successful.
The university has also invested in your success through constructing the spectacular Veterans and Military Family Members Center we dedicate today—the largest, most comprehensive in the state. The Center has a computer room, VTC-capable conference rooms for Veterans to use for meetings and for interviews with potential employers; social space for relaxing and peer-to-peer counselling; and, a fully-funded VA Mental Health Counselor.
Listen, even famous, iconic Americans are pulling for you. We are joined today by Charlie Daniels! Now, the Devil may have come down to Georgia, but Charlie’s here in Tennessee doing God’s work—providing MTSU Veterans with support and encouragement. Charlie, thank you!
Now let’s talk about the second question—what are you, MTSU Veterans and family members, going to do for yourselves and each other? You can have a resounding impact on the future of America. Are you up to it?
Do you have the strategic vision, the determination, individually and collectively, to reshape the world as the World War II generation did?
Because nothing others have done to support you will matter unless you earn your degrees!
This post-9/11 GI Bill is important, but most important are the numbers of Veterans who graduate. That’s the measure of success. When you graduate, that’s the payoff for every investment that has been made in you—for MTSU, Tennessee, and the Nation.
I can think of no greater commitment than to support the graduation of your fellow Veterans; leave no one behind. Sponsor arriving Veterans, encourage academic excellence, not mere attendance. Mentor, tutor, and assist your fellow Veterans!
So get organized, help each other, and graduate!
Let me add a word to employers who can hire some of these outstanding young Veterans. These men and women displayed extraordinary strength and resilience; they sacrificed for the greater good; they demonstrated remarkable perseverance in the face of adversity to protect the freedoms that we all, as Americans, enjoy; they worked with others, often very different from themselves, to accomplish great feats.
They’ve lived by core values of duty, honor and country and in doing so they earned our trust. At a time when our Nation faces many challenges, we have the opportunity to help them become integral parts of our communities.
It’s the right thing to do. But it’s also the smart thing to do!
Can we think of any situation where we don’t need more people who put service before self, who bridge differences to accomplish hard tasks, who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles, and who we trust implicitly to choose the harder right over the easier wrong?
Let’s embrace them, and their families, as we welcome them into our communities. It’s the right and smart thing to do.
Let me turn to the words of a young President who placed so much hope, faith, and trust in the young people of America. In the speech he was to deliver in Dallas on the day he was assassinated, President Kennedy had written, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
Veterans—as you pursue your degrees, you are preparing yourselves for leadership in your communities and in our country. Young men and women who stood in our military formations will always be America’s measure of courage, perseverance, and patriotism. You will lead this great Nation in the 21st century. Don’t leave anyone—not a single Soldier, Airman, Sailor, Marine, or Coastguardsman behind. You wouldn’t in combat, so don’t here. The mission’s changed, but you have not.
Find the incoming freshman Veteran or transfer student. Mentor, assist, and push them to excel. Use the facility MTSU has built for you as a place to gather, to network with each other and with future employers.
Seek out LTG Huber; he’s here for you. If you see a fellow Veteran in trouble, make sure they get the help they need, whether it’s tutoring, someone to talk to, or someone to help work on issues that are bothering them from their time in uniform.
I salute every Veteran and military family member seeking an education. Make us proud. Continue to serve each other and our Nation. We need you to make a difference.
God bless those who serve, and have served our Nation in uniform. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.