Using the sound of Veterans, Educators and Traditional Students’ members voices honoring fallen soldiers from atop Bascom Hill, Cpl. Jake Beebe strives to ensure University of Wisconsin-Madison students are reminded of American heroes as they walk to class this Veterans Day.
Beebe, VETS president, said the memorial roll call, in which members call out the names of every soldier that has died fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, is one of the organization’s largest annual events and the primary way traditional, or non-veteran, students get involved.
Diversifying VETS’ membership is something Beebe said he aspires to this year by expanding the program to include more traditional students and changing the name of the organization from Vets for Vets to its current title.
“Most of us are the type of student veteran who went to the military after high school and then came back here, so we have a totally different experience it seems, of what college is,” he added. “And in order for us to connect better with the campus, we need people who are from that background, who came straight to college and know what it’s like to be like 95 percent of the students here.”
Beebe, now a junior studying Russian and psychology, served four years as a corporal in the Marines Corps after enlisting somewhat impulsively following his high school graduation.
“At the time, this was 2007, and the war in Iraq was in full swing. It was pretty bad and I looked around—there are 150 kids in my graduating class—and ... nobody was going into the military,” Beebe said. “Everyone was going to college, and I thought that was weird considering that we were at war, so I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but I thought somebody had to do it.”
Upon his release, Beebe, then 22, said he drove to Madison and encountered a common challenge of new students when he realized he did not know anyone within 200 miles of his new home. But Beebe’s situation was unique in that he did not have a surefire way to meet people because he opted not to live in the residence halls for fear of being the “weird old guy” among the 18-year-old freshmen.
However, it wasn’t until a veteran educational benefits-related question turned into a night at Wando’s that Beebe settled into the VETS organization. Originally, Beebe said he went to the office seeking advice, but later wound up attending one of the group’s bi-monthly socials at the downtown bar. From there he was invited to a hockey game, which eventually led to more involvement with the program, albeit still on a more convenience-based level.
Then, at the end of last year, Beebe found himself a frontrunner to become the new president of the organization, and once again stepped up to meet an unfulfilled need.
Although Beebe said the beginning of his presidency was “rough” due to funding issues with student government on top of his lack of prior managerial experience, “it’s going really well now.”
He said he hopes to grow the program in addition to increasing educational outreach efforts and putting on more events this year, such as when the VETS stretched an American flag the length of the football field at Camp Randall Stadium, in what Beebe said was “the coolest thing this group has ever done.”
Student Veterans of America also honored UW-Madison’s VETS as its chapter of the year in 2011.
Beebe said he has not yet ruled out staying on for a second term before graduating in May 2015 and traveling, diploma in hand, to live abroad in Russia.