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University of Central Missouri
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Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
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Support for Whiteman Air Force Base, Veterans Shared with House Interim Committee

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Sept. 25, 2014) – Comments focused on the contributions active duty military men and women, veterans and their dependents make to the campus and surrounding communities were heard by seven Missouri legislators when the Interim Committee on Missouri Military Impact and Sustainability convened at the University of Central Missouri Tuesday, Sept. 23.

House Interim Committee

At right, Delilah Nichols, coordinator of the Military and Veterans Success Center at the University of Central Missouri, and Mike Grelle, UCM vice provost for academic programs and services, welcome the House of Representatives’ Interim Committee on Missouri Military Impact and Sustainability to campus. Committee members seated front to back are: Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, District 75; Rep. Steven Lynch, District 122; Rep. Bob Dominique, House of Representatives Research Analyst;  Rep. Dean Dohrman, District 51; Rep. Pat Conway, District 10; Rep. Denny Hoskins, District 54; and Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, District 53.

Rep. Charlie Davis, District 162, who also chairs the committee, said UCM was the third and final stop for the committee. It met earlier in the week in Jefferson City, then traveled to Fort Leonard Wood. Such sessions are important, he noted, especially considering cutbacks at military bases across the nation. This includes a loss of more than 5,000 troops at Fort Leonard Wood in the next few years.

Such measures, he said, will have a negative impact on schools and communities. It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the children in grades K-12 at Fort Leonard Wood area schools will likely have to leave the school system due to downsizing affecting their parents’ jobs. Although no specific plans involving Whiteman Air Force Base were discussed, legislators heard from many different individuals representing the university, Johnson County, City of Warrensburg, Pettis County, and others who work closely with military personnel, and understand the significant impact the base has on the local area.

“We wanted to try to find out, not just what’s happening at the bases, but what’s happening to our communities,” Davis told a small gathering in the Elliott Student Union.

Among those joining Davis were Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, District 75; Rep. Steven Lynch, District 122; Rep. Bob Dominique, House of Representatives Research Analyst;  Rep. Dean Dohrman, District 51; Rep. Pat Conway, District 10; Rep. Denny Hoskins, District 54; and Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, District 53.

 Dohrman moderated the session, noting that UCM is “a great partner in our military mission in West Central Missouri.”  He mentioned that through UCM, military personnel can take classes across the globe.

Mike Grelle, UCM vice provost for academic programs and services, welcomed the group to UCM, thanking legislators for their support of the university and Whiteman Air Force Base.

“Today we are deeply appreciative of the service men and women of the military and their families provide. I hope we can foster new relationships and learn some things from each other today, and also cultivate and develop further the things we already have,” Grelle told the legislators.

UCM President Charles Ambrose also spoke to the committee, and commended its work. He noted that the university “appreciates the advocacy it provides the legislature for the betterment of the state, and what we consider to be a very special part of our population, our military and veterans service members.”

“Our mission for service and success is primary,” Ambrose said. “We have great partnerships in this room, including State Fair Community College, and Missouri municipalities. Today’s reality is none of us can do it by ourselves. Through collaboration and partnerships, extraordinary things can get done.”

During discussions, which lasted more than three hours in the Elliott Student Union, the committee heard many comments from speakers about services available to military personnel. They also heard from those who benefit from them, including remarks from two veterans who have recently graduated from UCM.

Delilah Nichols, coordinator of the Military and Veterans Success Center (MVSC), outlined many of the services the university provides active duty military and veterans students and their dependents, including the MVSC, which opened Nov. 11, 2011. Nichols spoke about how the center was part of President Ambrose’s vision for the university. Its establishment grew out of a meeting Ambrose had in January 2011 with members of Whiteman Air Force Base, the Warrensburg community, university leaders and military and veteran students.

“We asked how can we better serve our military and veteran students and our veteran population as a whole,” Nichols said. “As a result of that meeting, we now have a 1,500-square-foot facility, which we refer to as our home base for our active duty service members, veterans and military dependents as well as the military and veteran population in the community.”

Individuals using the center have access to computers; individual and group study areas; conveniences such as a microwave oven and coffee pots; and dedicated staff. Staff members there have a wide range of responsibilities. Director Jeff Huffman, for example, oversees a program in cooperation with the Office of Violence and Substance Abuse Prevention, which helps address underage drinking among young men and women serving in the military, an effort made possible through a U.S. Department of Justice grant. Other staff members help military veterans process their education benefits with the Veterans Administration, and coordinate services such as visits from the Kansas City Vet Center to help individuals who are having a difficult time transitioning to civilian life.

“As a part of our military and veterans service initiative, President Ambrose wanted to know how we could make it easier for service members who have a very limited income. As a result of that, we wrote a proposal to the Board of Governors for a Military Tuition Package,” Nichols said. She noted that eligible students get exemptions from certain fees such as the application fee, new student orientation fee, and per credit hour mandatory general student fee. They also get a free parking permit.

“For a full-time student, that’s approximately $500 per semester, so that’s a huge savings. It really helps a student out,” Nichols said.

She added, one of the challenges of her office is to gain the trust of individuals, who have faced the challenges of active duty service and the “scars of war.” They are often looking to people who can help guide them to new pathways after their military service.

 “We have created a culture of trust and connectiveness across the campus community. We do ensure well being for our student veterans. I personally see the Military and Veterans Success Center as a mission field,” Nichols said. “We have service members coming home. They get out of the service, and if there’s not a job these veterans have to make a choice.” Nichols reiterated the option of eligible veterans utilizing their VA educational benefits and seeking a degree of higher education as a great opportunity.

Through the MVSC, veteran students can get assistance they need to help them successfully transition to new career paths, according to Nichols.

A couple of UCM graduates, Chris Esparaza, and Nolan “Dusty” Brooks both spoke about their experiences in the military, and how the MVSC benefitted them. This includes dealing with trauma experienced in combat missions overseas.

Esparaza recently earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UCM, and became the first member of his family to complete a college education. He stressed a caring and helpful staff at the MVSC.

“UCM has been great to me since day one, ever since I came here to go to school,” Esparaza said. “When I run into a veteran whose going to different school, I say ‘why aren’t you going to UCM. Those guys will treat you right.’” 

Brooks said he wrestled with his future plans following service in the U.S. Army from 2005-2012. He said he had no home, and had to sleep on a friend’s couch. He met a former member of the MVSC, Charles Lowder, who helped him find a new place to live and introduced him to Nichols. She was able to connect with other individuals who could help him chart a new course for his future success as a student. She also introduced him to staff at the Vet Center, who helped him deal with the stresses of combat that followed him home.

“I really owe the world to Delilah and the Vet Center. I can’t overstate how much they’ve done for me,” Brooks told the group. He noted that at UCM, he was able to meet people who shared similar experiences, and he considered the MVSC his “home away from home, away from home.” 

Representing the Whiteman Area Leadership Council, veteran Keith Crumley stressed the value of working cooperatively to help maintain a strong military presence in this region, particularly with possible military cutbacks looming nationwide.

“Do you think it’s beneficial to have a statewide single voice,” asked Rep. Lynch, who serves the Fort Leonard Wood area.

“We need a unified voice,” Crumley replied. “We need to come to a consensus at the state to decide what our priorities are.”

Also during the session, the committee heard from individuals such as State Fair Community College President Joanna Anderson; Johnson County Presiding Commissioner Bill Gabel; Warrensburg Mayor Donna DeFrain; Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce member Dan Houx; Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn; and Pettis County Presiding Commissioner John Meehan. Presentations related to impact on the Knob Noster School District, information about Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg, Homes for Heroes program, and Missouri Veterans History Project also were included.