Serving Those Who Served

Steve White (left) leads OCC’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs. Robert Tuff (right) is retired from the United States Air Force and a student at OCC. Both are part of this month’s edition of our podcast, Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.

Onondaga Community College’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs provides Student Veterans the services they need to successfully transition from life in the military to life on a college campus. As we approach Veterans Day weekend, the office is the focus of this month’s edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.” You can listen to it here. During the podcast you will meet two people. Steve White is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who runs the office. Robert Tuff is a retired Master Sergeant from the United States Air Force who is a student at OCC.

The Office of Veterans’ Affairs serves 240 veterans and their spouses. The College’s high level of service has repeatedly earned it the prestigious “Military Friendly” designation by G.I. Jobs Magazine. The office is located on the second floor of Coulter Hall near the top of the main stairway in room C217. You can contact the office by phone at (315) 498-2200 or by email at veterans@sunyocc.edu.

Advocating for Student-Veterans

TOP OF STORY Barbara Thompson, Asst Dir of Veterans' Affairs 003Barbara Thompson is the College’s new Assistant Director of Veterans’ Affairs. She comes to Onondaga Community College from City University of New York in the Bronx where she held a similar position. Helping Veterans has been a lifelong passion for Thompson. She was born in Athens, Greece, grew up in an orphanage and was adopted by an American family at age seven. Her father spent 21 years in the Air Force working as an aircraft mechanic. “I saw all of the great things than can happen for Veterans and their families and it’s been my passion to give back,” she said.

Like most military families Thompson moved frequently. She attended five different colleges and was surprised by what she didn’t see. “None of them had offices or provided services for Veterans. I’ve dedicated myself to making sure Veterans receive the service they deserve.”

The story is much different at OCC where the College has a deep commitment to its student-veterans and their families. The full-time Office of Veteran’s Affairs offers support, assistance and information to students. As a direct link between the student-veterans and the VA regional office, the office handles applications for VA benefits and payment inquiries. Veteran tuition deferrals and veterans emergency loans may be requested through the office when financial need exists. The College’s high level of service to 350 student-veterans and their dependents has repeatedly earned it the prestigious “Military Friendly” designation by G.I. Jobs Magazine.

“It’s truly an honor to be here,” said Thompson who joined the College in March. “I look forward to completing the assessment process and gaining a greater understanding of how we can continue to assist those who have done so much for our country.”

Zack Ingram

TOP OF STORY Zack IngramZack Ingram believes in giving back and helping others whether he’s on campus working with fellow Student-Veterans or volunteering at Syracuse’s V-A Hospital.

The San Diego native spent more than 18 years in the Army before being medically retired in 2015. Ingram started and ended his service as a member of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division. He served through deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan before an injury ended his military career. Doctors repaired broken bones in his back with four screws, two rods, and a cadaver spacer placed between two vertebrae in his spine.

Zack Military Photo 2During his second tour of duty at Fort Drum, Ingram attended Jefferson Community College in Watertown and earned a degree in individual studies. In the fall of 2015 Ingram enrolled at OCC. “The first place I went on campus was the Office of Veterans’ Affairs,” he said. The office serves nearly 300 students and their dependents each year, informing them about the benefits they are eligible for and helping access them. It’s the reason OCC has once again been named a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs Magazine.

Ingram not only took advantage of the assistance offered there, he began helping fellow Veterans as part of the work-study program. “We are the first point of contact for Veterans who come to OCC. It’s good to have the ability to answer their questions and help relieve them of any stress they may have.”

Ingram is majoring in Adolescent Education and plans to become a high school English or History teacher. He’s enjoyed being an older student on campus and bringing a different perspective to classroom discussions. “The faculty’s attitude toward non-traditional students is really good. They are very interested in what you have to say. They value your experience.”

Ingram is also a regular presence at the V-A Hospital where he volunteers weekly. “I interact with patients and read them the news. It’s important for them to know they paved the way for me and now I’m paving the way for my children. The worst thing is to be forgotten.”

Military service has become a family tradition for the Ingram’s. Zack’s father was an Air Force Veteran, his mother was in the Navy and his uncle served in Vietnam as a member of the Marines. Zack’s son, Christopher, is in the Army and is stationed at Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Ingram and his wife also have three daughters. They reside in Baldwinsville.

A Hero’s Story

Former OCC student-veteran Will McKinney’s personal story of tragedy and triumph has earned him high praise from the Central New York Veterans Parade and Expo. McKinney has been honored as a recipient of the “Share Your Stories, Honor Our Heroes” award.

RESIZED AwardThe story of McKinney’s remarkable journey was presented to the public at the 2014 CNY Veterans Parade and Expo at the New York State Fairgrounds, an event sponsored by New York State Assemblymen Williams Magnarelli. In September 2011 McKinney was a Sergeant in the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division serving in Afghanistan.

McKinney learned how to walk again at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
McKinney learned how to walk again at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

His life changed forever when he stepped on a land mine and lost his left leg below his knee. McKinney would be flown back to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where he was fitted with a prosthetic limb and underwent countless hours of physical therapy.

Keith Stevenson is Veterans' Affairs Program Coordinator at OCC.
Keith Stevenson is Veterans’ Affairs Program Coordinator at OCC.

One year later McKinney was well enough to enroll in classes at OCC. He credited Keith Stevenson, Program Coordinator in the College’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, with making his transition a smooth one. “Keith helped me with everything. Coming out of the military and getting into college is overwhelming.” Stevenson, who is also a veteran, understands how difficult the process can be. “For most of our veterans this is their first time in college. They don’t have their parents helping them get things done. I take veterans through the entire enrollment process and give them as much help as possible.” Thanks to the hard work of Stevenson and his staff OCC has been named a “Military Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs Magazine for four consecutive years.

RESIZED head shot Will McKinney
Will McKinney

As for McKinney he has moved on from OCC and is now at the Colorado School of Mines where he is majoring in engineering. Despite what he went through while serving his country McKinney remains upbeat and positive. “I have a lot of friends who lost way more than I did. They don’t make excuses and I shouldn’t either.”

Honoring Student Veterans

OCC paid tribute to its student veteran community with a ceremony and open house on Veterans Day. The event was held in the Office of Veterans Affairs which is located on the first floor of Coulter Library.

College President Casey Crabill thanked student veterans for their contributions both to the nation and the College. “You are a huge part of the campus. Even though we only take one day out of the year to recognize you it’s a very important day for me personally and for the entire college. We owe you a huge ‘thank you.’ We wouldn’t be what we are if you hadn’t done what you did.”

Keith Stevenson is the Coordinator of OCC’s Office of Veterans Affairs. During the ceremony he read a powerful poem titled “It is the Soldier” by Charles M. Provence:

It is the Soldier, not the minister

Who has given us the freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter

Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet

Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer

Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer

Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician

Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,

Who serves beneath the flag,

And whose coffin is draped by the flag,

Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

OCC’s Office of Veterans Affairs supports the more than 300 student veterans on campus. As a result of its outstanding service OCC has been named a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs Magazine for the fourth year in a row for “going above and beyond to provide transitioning veterans the best possible experience in higher education.”

Casey Crabill, Keith Stevenson and Sue Tormey cut and serve cake to student veterans. The cake has a "Military Friendly" logo on it in honor of the College's fourth consecutive year having earned that designation from G.I. Jobs Magazine.
Casey Crabill, Keith Stevenson and Sue Tormey cut and serve cake to student veterans. The cake has a “Military Friendly” logo on it in honor of the College’s fourth consecutive year having earned that designation from G.I. Jobs Magazine.