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Veteran UNC employees reflect on experiences after Tar Heel Tribute event

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A U.S. Army veteran watches the posting of colors by the Orange County Sheriff's Office Color Guard on Nov. 11, 2022.

On Friday afternoon, UNC held its seventh annual Tar Heel Tribute at the Friday Conference Center. The event aimed to honor the contributions of the University’s veteran employees.

Sherene Jenkinsorganizer of the Tar Heel Tribute, said she wanted to make this year’s Tribute — the first since the pandemic — meaningful.

“The importance is really making sure that veterans know that they're valued, I think in any setting that they're in — but especially in the workplace,” she said.

In a speech at the event, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said veterans make up 7.5 percent of North Carolina’s adult population. North Carolina has the fifth-highest veteran population of any state, he said. 

The event included complimentary lunch and information on campus resources along with a keynote address by Perrin Jones
, a member of the UNC Board of Trustees, on the importance of military connections throughout the University’s history. He highlighted the B-1 U.S. Navy Band, whose 44 members became the first African Americans to enlist in the Navy as generals when they were stationed in Chapel Hill in 1942.

“The racial integration of the modern U.S. Navy, and arguably the University and the town of Chapel Hill, began with the B-1 band,” Jones said in the address.

Some
veterans at the event said they felt that North Carolina’s military connections make both the state and UNC a more welcoming place for those who have served.

“I found that the entire state is supportive of veterans. It's probably because there's a large Army population of Army veterans from the Fayetteville area,” Michael O’Connor, an IT support technician at UNC, said.

Sam Garcia
, an IT security specialist at UNC, said the transition from the military to the University can be difficult because “it’s just a different culture all around.” He also said the Carolina Veterans Resource Center can provide a valuable source of community for veterans at the University.

“A lot of times, too, it's a lot easier for a veteran to make friends with another veteran, so that’s a pretty good service to have,” he said.

O’Connor said he participated in Green Zone Training through the Center so that he could better support other veterans who might be struggling with assimilation into civilian life. Green Zone Training aims to educate members of the UNC community on challenges faced by military-affiliated students and provide resources to help.

“I had an easier time than the younger generation because we went in, we got out,” O'Connor said. “We didn't stay in the country for years and years like our younger generation does.”

Garcia said although the University is “very understanding” of veteran employees, he had difficulty enrolling in part-time classes because of confusion regarding the credits he had earned while in the service.

“We figured it out, but it was like, loads of emails and phone calls had to be made to straighten it out, and I feel like it didn't really need to be like that,” Garcia said.

Erica Jimenez
, a case manager in the Dean of Students office, said it can be difficult for student veterans to acclimate to the different mentality of University life, especially as non-traditional students. She highlighted the importance of University programs such as Boot Print to Heel Print, which assists transitioning veterans and active-duty students from admissions to graduation.

Jimenez, who is in the Air Force Reserve and is a military spouse, said events like the Tar Heel Tribute are important because they allow a unique group on campus to come together.

“When you get into this environment, it can be isolating and you feel like no one really understands; it feels different,” she said. “So I think it offers that community.”

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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