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Salute to Heroes

UNION – Serving one’s country in the military means sacrifice.  But one way America returns the favor for what the brave men and women do who make all our lives secure is through education.

And just as the military honors education, one local educational institution paid it forward with “Salute to Heroes”.

“Salute” was a special program held on the 241stbirthday of the U.S. Marine Corps – Nov.10 – at Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC).

Organized four years ago by the college’s Department of Student Services, the 2016, and fifth annual, “Salute” was held in the Art Gallery of the RCCC Jernigan Building.  Though the close quarters were somewhat crowded for the more than 60 persons who attended, they still saw a passionate and patriotic display of gratitude to those veterans who not only passed through the ‘Halls of Montezuma’, but also through the halls of the community college.

The event was co-sponsored by resource vendors Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, PNC Bank, Trillium, and Telamon.

The program began with the Junior ROTC Color Guard from Hertford County High School presenting the flags; then, as an added treat, the Roanoke-Chowan Community College Ensemble – a choir composed of students and staff – performed patriotic songs along with a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.

Following the musical tribute, three former RCCC students, also veterans, were the featured speakers for the event.

Retired U.S. Marine Richard Todd (1987-2011), now an information systems technician at nearby Chowan University, and who attended RCCC in 2001 and 2012, was the first speaker.  Todd reminded the students that a number of his 24 years of military service included humanitarian aid.

“The military gave someone who was basically a country boy from Bertie County a chance to visit over 20 countries,” Todd stated. “There’s a lot of sacrifice in being a veteran, but there’s also a lot of reward.”

Todd also noted that not only did he take advantage of G.I. Bill education benefits at RCCC, but so too did two of his three children, with another enrolled at Chowan.

“I see a lot of the professors and teachers who helped me when I was here, and helped me find my way,” Todd continued. “These are some awesome people, and I appreciate it.”

Kina Bond Collier graduated from RCCC in 2008 with an associate’s degree in nursing.  After serving as a military policewoman in the U.S. Army/National Guard during her tour of duty (1988-2009), Collier continues her education through UNC-Charlotte, while now serving for the past year as Chief Nursing Officer at Washington County Hospital in Plymouth.

“I’ve been fortunate that all my employers understand what I’ve tried to do in the National Guard,” said Collier. “Being a veteran doesn’t end when your contract ends, it’s a lifelong commitment.  The military not only developed me to be who I am today, but it’s also developed my career; it gave me the discipline and the drive to pursue my goals.”

Collier credits her leadership training with assisting her development, going on to pursue not just a four-year degree thanks to military education benefits, but also now aiding in her post-graduate pursuits.

“My bosses believe I’m a good manager and a good leader because of my military experience,” she confessed. “(They) want me because they believe I have an ability to hold people accountable for what they’re responsible for.”

Jonathan Smith (USMC, 2001-05) graduated from RCCC with a Criminal Justice associate’s degree and also served as SGA President (2007).

“Once you have that camaraderie you realize that you can’t make it by yourself no matter how successful one person is,” Smith said. “My background and education here, coupled with the military, has contributed to my success.”

Now an entrepreneur and a minister, in addition to his work in the Criminal Justice field, Smith reflected that the military was just another stepping-stone to achieving his goals.

“No regrets,” he exulted. “The military has taken care of me and so many more families. Don’t stop, just keep on going.”

Following the featured speakers, Wendy Vann, Dean of Student Services, recognized the students, staff, and friends of the college who have served in the military, by reading their names one-by-one.

Murfreesboro native James Britt, a retired 22-year US Army Special Forces veteran, implored the students to consider a military career.

“Everything these speakers said is true,” Britt noted. “They will take care of you, send you to school, and that’s how I came here in the ‘80’s. There is no better security like a US military base. It’s like I’m back home.”

“These speakers have all given testimony not only of their service and what they did in the military, but also testament of how Roanoke-Chowan Community College has helped them better their lives,” said Vann. “And for that we thank them so very much.  God bless them, and God bless America.”