On Veterans Day in 2009, Boston College dedicated the Veterans Memorial Wall to the 209 BC alumni who had given their lives in service to their country. Nobody knew at the time, but the ceremony also marked the success of a network of connections and relationships that would still provide support to veteran alumni a decade later. The Veterans Memorial Committee, formed in 2005 with the purpose of fundraising and researching for the wall, soon transformed into the BC Veterans Alumni Network (BCVAN).
Initially, BCVAN was more focused on memorial and recognition, a logical extension considering its origin. The group continued to organize an annual Veterans Remembrance Mass, which still occurs every Veterans Day. Previously, it had been handled by another proto-veterans network: the alumni association of BC’s ROTC program. But about seven years ago, Dan Arkins, BC ’81, and George Harrington, BC ’80, took the reins as co-chairs and recognized that BCVAN could expand its scope.
“It started with Vietnam-era veterans who are now in their 70s,” Arkins said. “George and I are about 20 years younger, and we were both currently serving, so we recognized that ‘veterans transition’ had become a big buzzword. It was just a natural evolution for us to start thinking more broadly.”
Arkins and Harrington, both of whom had been senior officers, had seen firsthand the struggles that junior officers faced as they made their way back into civilian life. With so many veterans going back to college through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, it made sense to expand the scope of the BC-aligned group that already existed.
BCVAN went from hosting only the mass and memorial service on Veterans day to creating a suite of events for veterans. Networking sessions and guest speakers headline the group’s available resources.
Armed with a larger audience and mandate, it wasn’t long before BCVAN inspired similar groups for different parts of the BC veterans community. Today, BCVAN is just one of three pillars, joined by the BC Veterans Affinity Group—for faculty and staff—and the BC Student Veterans Association (BCSVA)—for current BC students.
“What we’re hoping to do with the three organizations is to have different organizations with a unity of effort between the three in order to promote veterans issues and veterans activities,” Harrington said. “We all feel very, very strongly that veterans help veterans.”
BC launched the affinity group in 2016. At the time, the University’s Human Resources division said that around 80 employees self-identified as veterans. The group operates as in-house advocates for veterans. In addition to joining BCVAN and BCSVA events, they also present in classes and panels concerning military-related discussion. It is currently led by Michael Leone, capital construction project manager at BC, BC ’99, and CGSOM ’21.
BCSVA is the the latest addition to the BC veterans family, having been co-founded by several graduate student veterans in 2017. Lisa Smith, one of the organization’s co-founders and GSSW ’18, began the program when she asked to join a veterans group and found out there was none upon her arrival on campus. She built on her experience gained in the Colorado State University Veterans Office in order to start a group that was geared specifically toward student veteran needs.
According to Smith, BCSVA aims to help with professional development, bolster relationships, and generally raise awareness about student veterans on campus. Currently, they work with about 70 student vets. She emphasized the fact that veterans who return to their education have to grapple with the transition not only into civilian life, but also student life.
“The veteran’s groups on campus serve an important purpose of providing a forum for veterans to get together, develop relationships with one another, share perspectives, and support one another,” Michael Lochhead, executive vice president of BC, a veteran himself, and BC ’93, ’99, said in an email. “This is particularly relevant for our student veterans who, in many cases, are older than traditional undergraduate students or have a different life experiences that they bring to the BC Community.”
Since being joined by the two new branches, BCVAN has been able to pursue its ambitions with a much more active schedule. Looking to the future, the leaders of each group aim to create a united front, welcoming veterans on any path of life.
“For veterans at Boston College that haven’t had an opportunity to connect with the employee, alumni or student veterans groups, I encourage them to reach out and get involved,” Lochhead said. “There is a great sense of community and camaraderie building among and between these groups.”
The student group will host their flagship event, a kickoff party for all BC-affiliated veterans on Oct. 3 in the Cadigan Alumni Center. There are also plans for a veterans tailgate before an upcoming home football team. Of course, the Veterans Day mass and memorial service, which inspired the network all those years ago, still happens every year.
These organizations have even extended their reach beyond BC and its alumni and into the broader Boston area. Through the ROTC program, BCVAN has been able to forge connections with veteran groups at Boston University, Northeastern, MIT, and Harvard.
Despite their immediate focus, these groups don’t want to limit their message strictly to other veterans.
“I would encourage folks that are non-veterans to contact the groups, understand them, and find out where the common ground is because essentially we are them and they are us,” Harrington said. “Both sides—veterans and non-veterans—have some stereotypical views of the other side, and it’s only with dialogue that you can understand that there are no real differences and we’re all pretty much the same people.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor