Student Veterans in DCCCD Reflect on Veterans Day


Derek Cornelius

Derek Cornelius, like many other student veterans on campuses of the Dallas County Community College District, wants to give back to the community and help other veterans.

As he reflects on the upcoming Veterans Day holiday, the 46-year-old Army veteran, who is studying welding at Mountain View College, said he wants to go beyond honoring veterans’ service.

“It is a chance for me, as an individual, to recognize them for their service, especially Vietnam veterans,” Cornelius said. “That’s a group of veterans who really got the short end of the stick when they returned. As much as I appreciate people recognizing me and thanking me, it humbles me more than it makes me feel good.”

Cornelius, who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, said he hopes to help in the future with vocational rehabilitation at the Veterans Administration. “It’s about reaching out, giving back and getting with individuals with disabilities to help them out,” he added.

Christopher Gaytan

Christopher Gaytan

Christopher Gaytan, who served in the Marine Corps and who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007, shares Cornelius’ feelings.

“I know I’m a veteran, but I also look at folks who were in the Vietnam War or who were in Desert Storm. I really respect those veterans because they went through some stuff that most other folks can’t even imagine,” Gaytan said. “When I see somebody who is homeless and find out that he or she is a veteran, I wish I could do more for them.”

Serving those who have served

Ken Wisdom, who served in the Army from 1983 to 1988 and who now is studying to become a social worker, said some veterans are coming to back to the country from the Middle East and are having trouble adjusting.

“I would like to help, if I can,” said Wisdom, who did not deploy during his time in the military. “I had it so easy, so they should have it as easy as possible. I want to help them get the resources they need, whether educational, financial or medical.”

Wisdom added that many of his family members served in the military. His two grandfathers served during World War II, two of his uncles served in Korea, and one uncle served in Vietnam, he said.

“Veterans Day gives me a moment to reflect on my relatives who have served in the military. It gives me a moment to be proud of the fact that I’m part of what enables us to hold elections and have the greatest country in the world,” Wisdom said.

Janet Davis, vice president of the Student Veterans of America at Eastfield College, served in the Army from 1978 to 1984. She said she is studying business administration and hopes to transfer to a four-year university after she earns her associate degree.

Davis said she started in the medical field in the Army, and she hopes her degree will help her get a job in a medical office, where she could help other veterans.

“When someone says to me on Veterans Day, ‘Thank you for your service,’ it brings joy to my heart. I feel like I made a difference,” said Davis. “But I still want to give back to my country. I hope someday I can work in a military environment so that I can make a difference in veterans’ lives. I don’t care when they went in or out; we’re still veterans.”

Francisco De La Rosa, 53, retired last year as a sergeant first class from the Texas National Guard after serving in the Army for 31 years. He deployed to Iraq twice, once for Desert Storm in the early 1990s and a second time for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009, and he also served as a peace keeper in Kosovo.

De La Rosa said he had 17-year-old soldiers under his leadership, and he always promised their families that he would bring them back alive, which he did. He said he is honored that people in the U.S. recognize him for his service, but he would rather see other veterans receive the honors on Veterans Day.

“I’m appreciative and honored, but I didn’t do it for the pay or the benefits. I just wanted to serve,” De La Rosa said. “I didn’t want recognition when I joined. I wanted to do my job and help maintain our way of life in the U.S.”

De’Corian Land is majoring in general studies at Eastfield, but he said he hopes to transfer to North Lake College in the future to study logistics because that was his specialty while he was in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The 24-year-old from Terrell, Texas, served in Afghanistan and is now in the Army Reserve. He said he is planning to go to the Veterans Day parade in Dallas on Friday to honor those who have served.

“Veterans Day is about remembrance – remembering and recognizing everyone who served before me,” he said.

Joshua Moreland, a disabled Navy veteran who operated weapons systems as a fire controlman, said he doesn’t consider Veterans Day a recognition of his service.

“I look at it as a recognition to other veterans, even those who are still on active duty,” said Moreland, who is studying internet development through online classes at both Richland and El Centro colleges. “I don’t consider it an honor to me. A big part of it is that, even as a disabled vet, I have my life, and I can’t help but feel blessed having all four limbs and being sound of mind.”

Moreland said people who go into the military do it selflessly and many give all for their country – and civilians should understand that. He added that he wants to start his own web development company after he finishes his studies and then use his business to help other veterans.

 Veterans Day: More than sales and discounts

 Naomi Zachery, who served in the Army from 2011 to 2015 and who now attends El Centro, said too many veterans are struggling. “Getting free food and discounts doesn’t help us. Too many saw combat, and they’re broken. It takes them years to get over that. Veterans Day should be about helping out those veterans,” Zachery said.

 Eastfield’s Gaytan said Veterans Day should be more about having respect for those who served before him. “It’s not so much getting a free meal. We should think about the folks who didn’t get back and who fought for us. Just remember those vets, the guys who are here. I want to try to take care of them,” he said.

 Veterans can take advantage of financial aid

 Jessica Jenkins, coordinator of the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success at Eastfield and a Navy veteran, said she helps veterans process and receive the military educational benefits they are entitled to receive.

 “As a veteran, I can relate to other veterans, and I understand the things that they may be concerned with,” said Jenkins. “I can help veterans fill out their education benefits application and help them understand the differences between the benefits they may be eligible for before they apply.”

Jenkins added that there are several types of financial aid that a veteran might be able receive, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Texas Hazlewood program and other assistance. But she said veterans have to make sure that they apply early because the VA can take up to six weeks to process their applications.