For the roughly 19 million people who have served in the United States Armed Forces, Veterans Day is much more than just a federal holiday.
At SUNY Oneonta, that includes Human Ecology Professor Karen Joest, who served in the Air Force, and Dining Services employee Riley Deforest, a Marine.
This Veterans Day, the campus community came together during several special events and activities recognizing students and staff who served in the U.S. military.
On Friday morning, a “Thank-A-Veteran” campaign encouraged students to stop by the Hunt Union and write a note of appreciation to a veteran, and the college’s student veterans were invited to come pick up a gift. In the afternoon, a special reception was held at the Morris Conference Center for all the veterans in the Red Dragon community.
“We are forever grateful to the employees, students, alumni and friends who are current or retired military personnel,” President Alberto Cardelle said. “Their leadership and experiences enrich our college, and their dedication to our country is honorable. … We are extremely proud of them for their selfless service to our country, courage, and their belief in and willingness to protect our democracy.”
Professor Karen Joest was in the Air Force from 1987 until 1991. Her dream at the time was to become a law enforcement officer, but she couldn’t afford to stay in college. Enlisting in the Air Force, which “had the best law enforcement academy of all the branches,” allowed her to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Stationed in Hawaii, Joest was initially charged with basic law enforcement but worked her way up, eventually becoming the NCO in charge of Reports and Analysis (in other words, understanding what was happening in terms of crimes and, thus, prevention on base.) She also worked extensively with local schools in prevention programs like the McGruff and DARE programs. When the Gulf War broke out, she was in a non-deployable unit, so her job changed to security – spending 12 hours a day on a mountain top guarding satellites.
At Oneonta, Joest teaches courses such as American Families in Poverty, Children in Crisis and Child Development. She said her time in the Air Force taught her many things, including to never give up, that “education is a tool that can change lives,” and that “being a life-long learner is not a cliché.”
“I think another thing that has always stuck with me is the difficulty that so many of my friends had when they returned from the Gulf,” Joest said. “It's part of why I became a trauma therapist. … We still do NOT give veterans the support they need upon returning and over time. People often just think you can turn off the violence, compartmentalize the experiences, but our brains just don't work like that.”
Riley Deforest, who works as a barista at the SUNY Oneonta Starbucks, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on Nov. 26, 2012. He served four years active duty, four years inactive duty and received an Honorable Discharge, attaining the rank of E-4 or Corporal, making him a non-commissioned officer, the lowest leadership rank.
Deforest was an Infantry Mortarman, providing indirect fire support to his infantry battalion in both offensive and defensive operations. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before being deployed in July of 2014 to Afghanistan, tasked with the external security of Camp Leatherneck, manning guard towers and checkpoints, and inspecting vehicles coming into and out of the base.
His second deployment was as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, supporting and cross training with NATO allies in the east. Deforest was stationed at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, and would have the opportunity to train with the Japanese Self Defense Forces in Iwakuni. He also traveled to South Korea to train in the Pohang training area, where he became a certified Korean Mountain Ranger by the South Korean ROK Marines.
“I will never forget looking out over the DMZ in the mountains near Seoul,” Deforest recalled. “Or the smell of Afghanistan, a mix of heat, diesel and human waste. The tenacity of the Afghan people, harvesting scrap metal around the base, living out of shipping containers in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a violent civil war, and still, they would smile and sit down to chai and cigarettes.”
Deforest said he and other veterans can sometimes feel “like we are oversharing” when the subject of their military service comes up in conversation, so they appreciate the chance to share their experiences.
“Like most of my Marine peers, I was raised in the aftermath of 9/11, and I felt a calling to participate in the war of my time,” Deforest said. “I was hungry for a challenge that wasn't mundane, a coming-of-age tale, a way to prove my manhood to myself and the world around, and I found that in the Marines. … I earned the title of Marine, through literal blood, sweat and tears. The Marines demand three things from you: Honor, courage and commitment. Everything else comes from there.”