The University of South Carolina’s Student Veterans Association and Student Government hosted their first Veterans Day 5K run on Saturday. The event, which kicked off at 8 a.m. on Greene Street by Longstreet Theatre, was a fundraising event to aid the Veterans Association’s goal to raise money for the construction of a Fisher House at the Dorn VA in Columbia.
The Fisher House Foundation, a national nonprofit with locations all across the U.S., seeks to aid veterans who are in need of services from VAs which may be far from their residence. Brooks Herring, the secretary of Veterans Affairs in Student Government, said Fisher House was important to the veterans community.
"What the Fisher House Foundation does is they provide lodging, absolutely free, and sometimes even transportation expenses for the families of military members and veterans when their loved one, the veteran or military member, requires an overnight or extended stay procedure at a VA facility,” Herring said.
South Carolina has two main VA locations: one in Charleston and one in Columbia. Only the Charleston campus, however, currently has a Fisher House.
“Charleston services about one quarter of stuff going on as veterans, and the Dorn VA services the rest; the low-country to the Midlands, all the way into the Upstate. This affects veterans and their families all over the state,” Herrings said. “The Dorn VA ... they have already guaranteed a plot of land on the Dorn VA campus for the Fisher House. So all we have to do is raise the money. It’s a six million dollar project, and all we have to do is raise half ... and the national Fisher House Foundation matches it dollar for dollar.”
On Saturday morning, race participants arrived, received their shirts and racing numbers and lined up in the area between the USC gates and Longstreet Theatre. At 8 a.m., they followed a police escort around downtown Columbia, running a route which included Senate, Wheat and Sumter streets. Some carried American flags, and others dressed in patriotic colors.
Along the way, volunteers lined the route and worked at water stations, distributing refreshments and giving aid to those who may have needed it.
Sasha Graddick, a fourth-year broadcast journalism student, participated in the event.
“I’m taking part because I have veterans in my family and it’s just a really good thing to support them, because not all of them get support from the government, and truly all of them have a community in Columbia that cares about the veterans,” Graddick said. “It’s just important to let them know that people care for them and love them and that they still matter whether they’re in service or out of service.”
Kaitlyn Ramey, a fourth-year exercise science student, also participated in the 5K and said the event was important to her and her sister.
“I think veterans are underappreciated, so Veteran’s Day is especially important for us because we have a veteran of our own, so just representing them and honoring them and what all they’ve done for us.”
Aubrey L. Sejuit, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and USC graduate who serves on the Veteran’s Alumni Council, stated that USC was an important community in regards to veterans.
“University of South Carolina is very veteran and military friendly, and South Carolina is known as the most veteran friendly state,” she said. “I really appreciate all the opportunities that University of South Carolina has really bestowed upon me as a veteran, and how veteran friendly they’ve been to us as a whole.”
Student Body President Taylor Wright hoped that the event would bring awareness to the sacrifices of veterans, and invigorate the USC community to do more to serve them.
“The veteran population is a special population on campus, and I think over the past few years a lot of momentum has really risen toward veteran support, which is amazing,” he said. “And I hope they realize that we have an amazing university that really supports our veterans and cares about that population on campus, and wants to make sure they’re educated and feel comfortable on campus, just like any other group.”