The son of a Vietnam veteran, Todd Anckaitis spent his childhood as an Army brat before joining the ROTC in college and then serving in the National Guard for nine years. All told, he spent more than 30 years immersed in the military world.
He has now spent almost half as much time at Swarthmore, where he coaches women’s soccer. Although he’s met some students with ROTC backgrounds and crossed paths with other veterans around campus, Anckaitis has felt adrift from his military identity and eager to boost awareness of the sacrifices made by those who serve.
“I don’t want it to become an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation for myself or others,” he says.
Alleviating this concern while fostering camaraderie across campus is Veterans at Swarthmore, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that creates a culture of support for veterans from across all branches of the armed forces. The group brings veterans from across campus together to share their experiences and knowledge with one another and the larger College community.
“I am glad to be a part of a public collective,” Anckaitis says of the group, “to convene, converse, be a resource for, and share a communal experience with.”
Echoing that thought is Andy Feick, associate vice president for sustainable facilities operations and capital planning, who notes that increasingly few members of campus communities have a personal connection to or understanding of military service.
“I hope the presence of this veterans group will eventually provide for broader engagement and conversation and broader community understanding,” says Feick, who joined the Army ROTC in college and served four years of active duty as an engineer, primarily in Alaska and in support of construction around the Pacific Theater.
“The veterans who were not drafted were volunteers,” he adds. “Most volunteered because we have a strong sense of service. That sense of service tends to carry through to our careers and communities.”
One of the goals for the group is to recruit more veterans, says Mike Hill, director of public safety, who has been reaching out to other veterans’ organizations.
“Veterans have a depth and breadth of abilities that benefit the College and our community,” says Hill, who served 25 years in the Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2011.
“Veterans on campus provide unique perspectives and experiences that allow them to, as we used to say in the Army, ‘Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome,’” he adds. “The Veterans ERG and all of the others at the College allow for affinity groups to come together and share.”
Among other members of Veterans at Swarthmore:
- Tyrone Dunston, director of environmental services, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps whose service included management specialization and logistics support.
- Joe McSwiggan, Garnet Shuttle driver for Public Safety, whose Army service included two years in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1st Squadron C-Troop 2nd Platoon.
- Christina Webster, a technical support specialist for Information Technology Services, who served the Navy, Hull Technician 3rd Class. “We were often referred to as the Navy’s plumbers,” says Webster, who learned welding, sheet metal, insulation, and damage-control methods such as firefighting.
- Danie Martin, a technical services specialist in McCabe Library, who served in the U.S. Army as a field artillery officer.
For these and other veterans across campus, many of whom were featured in a recent video, military backgrounds carry additional resonance on Veterans Day.
“To me, it’s simply a day to seek out my vet colleagues and thank them for their service,” says Feick. “I reconnect with my former military service friends by social media or text and say hello and thank them for their service. I think about current military people who are serving, some in very difficult situations, and I silently thank them, too.”
Adds Hill: “Veterans Day is an opportunity for me to reconnect with comrades, many of whom are still in the service; one is currently deployed overseas in Iraq and Kuwait. It’s a day when I can reflect on the many experiences and friends that have helped shape me as a person and a professional.”
For Anckaitis, who has a friend who was just deployed to Afghanistan and a family member who just returned from there, “it’s a time for me to pause, reflect, and honor.”
“There are many people that you interact with on a daily basis that may have served or have loved ones who did,” he says. “So I hope that everyone can share in honoring them in their own way on this day.”
For more information on the Veterans ERG, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.