Mel Siebert, 37, joined the Army eight years ago as a medic, but while returning from her first tour of Afghanistan, Siebert suffered a back injury, and is medically retiring from the military this month.
That means Siebert, who is studying for a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management and homeland security through American Military University, is looking for a job. The 2018 Military Expo, presented by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Community Veterans Engagement Board (NSV CVEB) and hosted by Shenandoah University at Halpin-Harrison Hall on the university’s main campus in Winchester in May, was just the place to go for networking.
“Hopefully, I can get a job out of this,” said Siebert, who lives in Cross Junction, Virginia. During the job-seeking process, Siebert also learned about a volunteer opportunity while meeting up with Bruce “Bru” Randall, who manned one of the more than 50 resource tables set up at the expo. Randall is the Winchester coordinator for Team Rubicon, which calls upon veterans to volunteer on emergency disaster response teams, a concept which appealed to Siebert, who was a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician prior to joining the Army. “[It] seems like it’s going to be right up my alley.”
A Place To Connect With Resources
Organizations with resource tables offered a wide variety of information, ranging from recreational therapy and veterans’ services to employment, education and benefits. For example, Kyle Homan, with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said he had a resource table at the event to help keep veterans informed and up to date on home loan financing geared toward them, noting that sometimes veterans don’t know they have the benefit. “It’s a great loan program,” he said.
More than 150 veterans turned out to learn about resources at the expo, said Assistant Registrar/Veterans and Technology Specialist Niccole S. Gatliff, who also serves as treasurer for the NSV CVEB. The day-long event was designed for not only veterans, but also active duty members of the military, National Guard members, reservists, spouses and caregivers. Retired CSM Victor Angry served as the event’s guest speaker, and the day featured more than 25 sessions, focusing on everything from military education benefits and filing disability claims to resume writing and starting a veteran-owned business. Additionally, the event included networking time and a public forum with officials from the Martinsburg, West Virginia, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a representative of Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock’s office, Winchester Mayor David Smith, Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor and Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland. Comstock’s representative, Anthony Barnes, is a Navy veteran, while Taylor served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves.
A University That Serves Veterans
Shenandoah University was represented at the event through the organization Shenandoah Veterans & Supporters, as well as the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing’s Veteran to BSN program. The nursing program provides support for veterans and has graduated eight students with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, said Assistant Professor of Nursing Therese Collins, MS, RN, CNE, who will oversee the program that was started by Auxiliary Adjunct Assistant Professor of Nursing Sherry Rawls-Bryce, MSN, RN; Assistant Professor of Nursing Gretchen Burks, MSN, RN; and Clinical Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Nursing Rosalie Lewis, MSN, RN; who are all retired military nurses. She noted that three of the four students currently in the program helped out at the expo. The Veteran to BSN program is designed to provide additional resources to veterans, who may face challenges unlike those of other students, Collins said. While the program benefits veterans, it can also assist younger, more traditional students, providing them with perspective, Collins said. A veteran can remind someone that a “C” on an assignment is fairly small in the grand scheme of things, and they can model teamwork and leadership for the traditional students, drawing from their military training.
An Event That Truly Helps
“These events are extremely important,” said Simone Hawthorne, wife of Four State Community Veterans Engagement Board communications liaison Kenneth Hawthorne. Simone has done Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder support groups for two years with The Honor Alliance, a Martinsburg, West Virginia-based organization she and her Army veteran husband Kenneth created. Connecting veterans and their families with needed resources is essential, she said.
And now planning begins for 2019’s expo. “We are already looking ahead to next year and starting the conversations on what, when and how we can improve,” Gatliff said. “To say that our first Military Expo was a success would be an understatement. Not only did we serve many veterans we were able to engage community members and create partnerships. That is what this board is all about.”