Monday is Veteran’s Day and Mia Gomez says she has a t-shirt with a simple but powerful message.
“Don’t thank me,” the shirt says. “Thank my brothers who didn’t come home.”
Gomez, a junior who is double-majoring in biochemistry and anthropology & sociology, is a military veteran who served in the United States Army before returning to campus last year.
“When you’re out of uniform, people don’t know you,” Gomez said. “People don’t notice.”
She’s part of a group that is trying to change that. She’s the president of the Veterans Club at The College of Idaho, which is in its first full year after being dormant for nearly five years. The club is not limited to people who have served in the military and Gomez said there are currently more non-veterans than veterans in the club.
“We want to bring in the veteran community that is around us, but we also need to strengthen the one that is already here on campus,” Gomez said. “We’re open to anyone and everyone who is interested, who wants to be educated, who wants to help.”
The re-introduction of the club actually started with an alumnus, Mike Elliott ’71, who is also a member of the College’s Board of Trustees. Elliott, who served in the U.S. Air Force, sought out a student, Matt Meyers, who was a member of the basketball team last season, to learn about his experiences in the military before coming to the College. Meyers mentioned Gomez, who is a student assistant for the men’s basketball team, and the three sat down to talk about their experiences.
“All I was trying to do was facilitate and get things going,” Elliott said. “We want to help them (the veterans) integrate and help the other students understand what the vets have done. They all want to be part of something. They all want to be Yotes.”
Shortly thereafter, the Veterans Club was re-born. Elliott, former basketball coach and athletic director Marty Holly (also a military veteran), and Registrar Cassandra Heath helped get the ball moving, though Gomez and Meyers have done the bulk of the work. Though the group doesn’t focus on past experiences, Gomez says the club has helped connect people who can provide support for each other.
“We are trying to re-integrate into the civilian lifestyle,” Gomez explained. “When we have to come out (of military lifestyle) and we have to try to find a way for ourselves, it can be difficult.”
It can be difficult for the veterans and the general campus population. Gomez says there are some topics or questions that are difficult for veterans to talk about. Those in the club are hoping to help bridge that gap for years to come. Veterans on campus were welcomed into the VIP area at Saturday’s football game and then hosted community vets on Veterans Day for lunch. Gomez said the goal was to get students to interact with the veterans to help create understanding and appreciation.
The College of Idaho has a 128-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.