Saying ‘Thank you’

Less than 1 percent of the American population is charged with keeping 100 percent of the United States safe — often from remote locations away from their families.

On Nov. 11, the Carolina community paid tribute to that sliver of the population as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated Veterans Day.

“This morning 99 percent of the Americans woke up after a peaceful sleep free from imminent danger because they had been protected by 1 percent of the American nation,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Lawrence L. Wells, U.S. Air Force. “They should be honored as the top 1 percent.”

From a sunrise run to a tribute luncheon, the University community hosted multiple events throughout the day to honor the service of our nation’s veterans and active-duty service members.

“It means so much to the veterans to know that the entire community supports their service and is interested in knowing them as people,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “It means everything to see everybody come together and really support these activities, initiatives and these amazing people.”

The celebration began with a 1.5-mile formation run sponsored by the Carolina Veterans Organization, and was then followed by the annual Reserve Officer Training Corps Veterans Day Ceremony at the Carolina Alumni Memorial in Memory of Those Lost in Service.

Hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Air Force ROTC, the short ceremony focused on thanking veterans for their service.

“Thank you your bravery and willingness to put your life on the line for the ideals we stand for in this wonderful country,” said Cadet Col. Shannon McKerlie. “Thank you for paving the way for those who will step up next to serve and for setting an example for the American people.

“While many go through life wondering if they made an impact on the world, you will never have to wonder because you’re a part of something much bigger.”

The ceremony featured Wells, a retired command pilot, as the keynote speaker. Prior to retiring in 2013 after 35 years of service, Wells was the commanding general of the 9th Air Force, which consisted of more than 400 aircraft and 29,000 active-duty and civilian personnel.

“We are here to serve, welcome and thank our veterans for their unwavering service to our nation,” he said. “Across the United States and throughout the world today, Americans are going to pause to honor veterans who have served. These are brave fighting men and women who for more than 240 years have endured travesty, but have also enjoyed the joy of living and serving with fellow men and women in their service.

“Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who have served this great nation and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.”

Carolina also hosted the second annual Tar Heel Tribute — a luncheon for veterans and service members from the community — at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center. The event served as platform for attendees to learn more about the resources the University provides to assist military-affiliated employees and students.

With the most veterans on campus since the years after World War II, the University has been working hard to provide services to the growing military community, Folt said.

Carolina’s dedication to providing resources for veterans includes distance-learning programs designed for service members through the Friday Center, online courses from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the hiring of a new student veterans assistance coordinator position and college prep programs.

“As we work together to evolve and improve our resources for military-affiliated students on campus, this exciting portfolio of opportunities that we have is really flourishing,” she said. “We provide veterans and active-duty military not just with an education, but with an outstanding education.”

Capt. Annamaria Vesley, an assistant professor of aerospace studies and part of the Air Force ROTC cadre, said the events provided an important opportunity for local military members to connect with the University and feel supported by the community.

“It’s really fantastic to see the community that we serve turn around and embrace us,” she said. “It lets us know that we are supported and have a partner here at Carolina.”