Heroes among us
If you’re looking for a veteran to thank today, you might not have to leave campus.
The state has one of the highest percentages of troops in the country on a per capita basis — with more returning from Iraq this winter. And the University is home to about 375 students with previous military service.
Ryan Beck, advisor for military affairs for the UNC system, said admitting veterans is a great opportunity for universities.
“A veteran is someone who has chosen a path of selfless service and sacrifice,” he said.
In honor of Veterans Day, The Daily Tar Heel is sharing the stories of five former servicemembers.
Before he was a freshman at UNC, Chris Ray was a squad leader in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
In charge of 10 marines and eight members of the Afghanistan National Army, his mission was to patrol the local area for Taliban forces.
When Ray spotted a fake improvised explosive device in the scope of his rifle, he never heard the real one go off — all he remembers is waking up in a daze, face down in the dirt.
“I looked down at my rifle, it was covered in blood,” Ray said. “Everything was mute except this really loud ringing, like you see in the movies sometimes.”
By the time he could radio in for help, Taliban members — who had planted the IED — opened fire nearby.
Shoulder broken, leg bleeding and pierced with more than 20 pieces of shrapnel, Ray climbed into a ditch and opened fire randomly into the air to scare them off.
“At least it kept their heads down, so my guys could come get me,” he said.
Today, as a civilian and student, Ray’s the one keeping his head down around campus.
“Most classmates don’t know I served,” he said. “I don’t really go flaunt it or anything. I wish people were more aware of the things people our age are going through right now in the military.”
Sheldon Turner, a UNC senior, and Robertson Greenbacker, a UNC junior, never spoke after graduating high school together in Virginia — but a year later, they were placed in the same Marine Corps boot camp platoon. Both would serve separately in Iraq.
Greenbacker’s Humvee and two others were attacked by an IED in Fallujah.
The two lost contact after boot camp, eventually running into each other again as UNC students. This time, they’ll stay in touch.
For Veterans Day, all Greenbacker wants is a simple thank you and Kendall Marshall’s signed Carrier Classic jersey.
Not all veterans on campus are students.
Lt. Tom Twiddy is a campus police officer. As a Marine, he spent time overseas during the Persian Gulf War. Twiddy recently returned to campus part-time as a student, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in peace, war and defense.
He said UNC should be more reverential toward the holiday by giving University students and employees a day off.
“I think it should be a bigger deal here than it is,” he said. “It should be a day of celebration. It’s a day that you honor (those) who have served.”
Ryan Beck also graduated from the University with a degree in peace, war and defense. Before that, he was an Army Ranger.
As a UNC-system administrator, he’s focused on making campuses more accommodating to veterans.
Beck said the holiday is all about recognizing the people around you for what they’ve done, even if it’s a stranger.
“If it’s someone who knows a veteran, say thanks,” he said. “If it’s not someone who knows a veteran, go find one. There are all kinds of great stories out there.”
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