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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

Patriotic barbequing

Chris Irwin isn't an average 22-year-old college student. He's a veteran.
Last August, he returned home to Horseheads, N.Y. after a year spent in Iraq with the United States Army.
While other students were packing their clothes and preparing for a new year at school, Irwin was unpacking his uniform and embracing the family that he hadn't seen in 12 months.
Two days later, he arrived at the University at Buffalo to work towards a mechanical engineering degree, and slowly began to make the transition from a sergeant in the military to a student in civilian life.
Like most veterans, Irwin found the change to be difficult, but manageable.
"When you sign that line on the contract, you know what you're getting into…they could pull me right now and I could be on a plane going somewhere…you have no choice – I've just adapted to it," Irwin said.
As Irwin took his first step onto campus, he realized that he was just one student out of 27,000, and was just one Veteran out of the roughly 600 that attend UB.
"I got home from Iraq two days before classes started [and] moved up to Buffalo to a new apartment. It was a new place, I knew absolutely nobody and I was trying to get into the swing of things with classes," Irwin said.
However, Irwin quickly found a niche in the overwhelming Buffalo community with the Military Members Association.
"The group invited me in and it gives you that military feeling without being in the military anymore. It kind of gives you that camaraderie that you don't get with just your typical friends," Irwin said.
Irwin had difficulty relating to students that hadn't been through the same challenges, the successes and the adventures that he had in the military.
"[In the club], you can share your experiences that you've had. Whether it's some hard times or some type of stress with being deployed or combat related, it's the place that you can talk about it because you can't just talk to your normal friends about it…they have nothing in common with that," Irwin said.
Soon after joining the Military Members Association, Irwin noticed that the club was struggling. Formed in 1997, the association attracted many veterans, but once the war in Iraq began in 2003, it slowly unraveled.
"Right when the war started, a lot of people just became [unsupportive of their troops]… a lot of people looked down upon the club, and from there, it was just about [finding people to join]," Irwin said.
Last February, Irwin asked the Student Association if they would recognize the Military Members Association as an official SA club.
"The SA was very supportive in keeping the club active, but there was no one who was active in taking charge of the group because over the years…you're being deported or with your family…[and] there was no one really ready to step up to the plate," Irwin said.
Irwin decided to become president of the club and work towards accomplishing the member's goals of a stronger Veteran's community, recognition and presence on campus.
Under Irwin's direction and dedication, the club has expanded to over 60 members and continues to become more active, both on campus and in the community.
Currently, the club's ultimate goal is to raise funds for a memorial to be erected on campus.
"[We'd like to] really establish a veteran's memorial on campus...I really think that there's got to be some type of patriotism added to the campus because I feel right now that it's not veteran friendly at all," Irwin said.
Past club president and pre-health student Nick Hoffman is finishing his eight-year contract with the military. When he arrived to UB, he too felt that there was not a steady support system for Veterans, and decided to become involved with the Military Members Association.
Hoffman has been a member of the club for two years, and is in full support of raising funds to keep the association active and build a memorial.
"I don't think [veterans] are represented very well on campus. In terms of UB recognizing military commitment and members here for educational purpose, it'd be nice to see some recognition from the school for members who are coming back from war," Hoffman said. "[Many] have given up a lot when they come back to campus and to not be able to find the veteran's office or find a helping hand, is [disappointing]…I think we're providing a [guiding] hand, and that's encouraging."
Irwin hopes that the memorial will become a centerpiece on campus in the Flint Loop area or around the Student Union. He explains that it would be a tribute to all Veterans, specifically fallen alumni soldiers.
Veterans from the Military Members Association will be grilling hot dogs outside of the Student Union tomorrow between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to raise funds for the memorial. If it rains, the event will be pushed to Thursday.
According to the events Facebook page, for $4 students and faculty can purchase a hot dog meal with chips and a drink, and can also buy a baked good for $1. During the barbeque, club members will also hold a raffle.
"It's a great way to get some exposure on these beautiful, sunny days…I think a barbeque is a fun way to do that because everybody – especially when you're in the military – enjoys a good barbeque," Hoffman said.
Irwin plans to transfer to North Carolina University in the fall while he finishes the last two years of his military contract. He remains certain that new members will continue to work towards the completion of the memorial.
"It doesn't stop with just me – the other members of the club are very supportive and I'm very confident that they'll keep all of this going," Irwin said.
The Military Members Association meets on Tuesdays in room 145E in the Student Union at 4:30 p.m. Irwin encourages all students to join, even if they're not veterans. For more information, prospective members can reach him by E-mail at csirwin@buffalo.edu.
"I think that by coming by and supporting us as a group, you're saying ‘Listen, I believe in what you do and…it's good to see that you're here in school trying to better yourself and become part of society,'" Hoffman said.

E-mail: features@ubspectrum.com


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