June 13, 2013, is a night to remember for the Aurora Foundation. It was the inaugural event designed as a tribute to our Nation’s veterans on campus and those who have come together to support them in a journey that we call, "From boots to books to business.” Held at the Waterford at Fair Oaks, nearly 100 guests gathered to hear from four guest speakers.
Ms. Margarita Devlin provided her insights from her twenty – plus years with the Department of Veteran Affairs, most recently as the Acting Director of Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment.
COL Ken McCrae, who leads the Sonny Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, shared his experiences at Mississippi State University. With the funding provided by Aurora, they have trained more than 50 faculty members and raised the awareness of veterans' needs overall. MSU's student veteran population is 2000 students, and their retention rate is reported to be an outstanding 67 per cent.
Two young veterans, both with distinguished service careers with the US Marine Corps, openly shared their stories of "boots to books to business." Kevin Powell, served three tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps, two with a regular infantry unit, and one with a special operations riverine unit. He fought in Operation Phantom Fury, the Battle for Fallujah in 2004. Using the GI Bill, Kevin graduated from UNC Wilmington with a degree in business and minor in Middle East/Islamic studies and Arabic. He served another year in Iraq working with the State Department, and is now an analyst with Perfecta Aviation.
Powell's remarks were both entertaining and poignant. He described the camaraderie between a father who served in the US Air Force, and his son, who chose the Marines; and he shared stories about the bonds of brotherhood that can only be formed during the most difficult of circumstances, called combat. They, along with his wife and young son, seemed to be the driving inspiration for him as he completed his degree. But it was his experience with the Washington Scholars Program, where he was sponsored by the Aurora Chair, that opened the doors he needed to pursue a career in the civilian workforce. During his internship, Kevin learned how to work with very senior leaders at The Pentagon, providing such outstanding support that he was recognized by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Materiel and Facilities. Kevin stated that it was through this experience that he was able to stand before an audience and deliver a speech like tonight's with confidence. "We are presented with amazing opportunities to meet and network with senior-level people here in D.C. I would like to believe that my story is solid proof that the Aurora internship program changes lives.”
David Campbell enlisted in the US Marine Corps at the age of 17 as a LAV Crewman and Rifleman. He deployed in 2008 during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Additional deployments took him to Morocco and South Africa. He completed his BA in Global Affairs at George Mason University (GMU), where he is also pursuing his Masters in Biodefense. He and his wife are the proud parents of two young girls.
Campbell began his remarks by noting that he had been touched by the support from the Aurora Foundation while at GMU. He signed up for the UNIV300 course, which was funded by an Aurora grant and designed specifically for student veterans only. It is a 1 credit class focused on veteran transition. In it, he developed skills in Resume writing, Interviewing, Job search, and Networking. This training was instrumental in his Aurora internship with CACI because he was placed in the position of Recruiter's Assistant. He quickly became an integral part of the CACI Recruiting team as he supported hiring managers, developing job descriptions and pre-screening candidates. The training that he received from both the UNIV300 course and his internship led him to a fulltime position as Analyst for Sotera Defense Solutions.
David continues to be involved with giving back to veterans. He worked for the GMU Office of Military Services, staying engaged with other veterans on campus. He's been back to the UNIV300 course, this time as an alumni who can offer others the benefit of his experiences. He extended his thanks and gratitude to all who helped open the doors he needed to secure a promising future, not only for him but for his young family, too.
When the evening concluded, emotion filled the room. Aurora's Chairman and President, Tom DeWitt, closed the program with these words, "We are all here tonight because we are committed to preserving America's future. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of our Nation's veterans, helping them believe in the promise of a new
day that holds a degree, a job, and bright future."