The University of South Carolina Aiken celebrated the grand opening Sunday of its Veteran Student Success Center, which it believes could help it become a leading institution in the education and career placement of military veterans.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Through a partnership with the Augusta Warrior Project and Aiken Technical College, the now one-room resource hub in the USC Aiken Gregg-Graniteville Library soon will be “overwhelmed” with veterans ready to work, officials said.
The direct result will be jobs, officials said, but the hope over the long term is for the center to help USC Aiken break new ground in helping veterans and their families navigate the difficult career choices and health and wellness issues they face when re-entering the civilian world.
“This center is just the beginning,” said Robert A. Murphy, a Marine Corps veteran who is leading the project. “It’s not a symbol of what we have done, but where we are going. This will become the new legacy of USC Aiken in regards to how communities give back to their veterans to wisely invest in their education and future careers.”
Murphy, a 2012 USC Aiken graduate who received a bachelor’s degree in business management, said the center, which has been open unofficially for 60 days, will work with industry to provide counseling, specialized career training and assistance with academic preparedness.
The center is Murphy’s brainchild, evolving from a student-success club he started shortly after he went to USC Aiken in 2008 to connect veterans with one another while building a network for them in the community and their respective branches of service.
Nearly 100 people applauded Murphy for his enthusiasm Sunday, including Thornton, one of 80 Medal of Honor recipients still alive today.
A South Carolina native, Thornton was a Navy SEAL. After completing his training, he was assigned to SEAL Team One in California from 1968-74. From October 1968 to January 1973, he completed several tours in Vietnam and Thailand.
Thornton’s most prestigious decoration was bestowed for heroic actions on his last tour in Vietnam, when he saved the life of a fellow SEAL during a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering mission.
“Freedom is not free,” said Thornton, the guest speaker. “It is written in the blood of our young men and women in the greatest nation of the world, and we as Americans need to support programs like this.”
A half-million service members are set to exit the armed forces in the next two years, and Thornton told the crowd that although there will be ups and downs for each veteran, it is not about how far they fall. It’s about how much the community is willing to help pick up the people who were willing to fight for their country.
Wilson, who has four sons in the military, one at Fort Gordon, agreed and added he intends to continue to support the center.
“This is not just a student veteran center,” he said. It is a student veteran success center, which I love. Veterans fight for our freedoms and I want every one of them, when they complete their service, to continue in education.”