The contribution of an RWU alumna breaking the military’s glass ceiling and the memory of fallen graduates – as well as every active and former member of the military – were honored during two special events at Roger Williams University and the Roger Williams University School of Law on Veterans Day.
In two separate events, both the University and the School of Law’s ceremonies joined in recognizing the sacrifices that are endured by members of the military and their families.
“It’s an important day that we recognize and honor our veterans,” RWU President Donald Farish said.
Veterans Day is a time for citizens to honor the sacrifices of veterans who have served and currently serve in the military, and of those who have died in combat. However, one must always hope for peace, President Farish said: “We earnestly hope for the time when war will no longer be necessary.”
The University’s ceremony was dedicated to women serving in the military. “A Band of Sisters: Women in the Military Commemoration Ceremony” featured guest speaker Chief Master Sergeant Lori A. Ashness, the first female selected as First Sergeant of the 143rd Airlift Wing Support Group.
In introducing Chief Master Sgt. Ashness, Maia Farish noted her aunt Faith A. Oldham’s contribution of over 30 years in the Army Nurse Corps. Lt. Col. Oldham, who served overseas in World War II and the Korean War and was awarded a presidential citation, would have been proud to be included in the day’s ceremony, Mrs. Farish said.
“Aunt Faith also would be gratified that women in the military today are accorded rights and privileges that she could only imagine a generation ago,” Mrs. Farish said.
Women have had a long history in the U.S. military, as far back as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars when women enlisted for combat under male pseudonyms, according to Chief Master Sgt. Ashness ’95, an alumna of RWU’s computer information systems program. Though the path has not been easy for them, women’s bravery and sacrifice has earned high citations throughout the centuries, she said. But times are changing – more women are joining the military and there are now women among the rank of four-star generals.
“You are beginning to write your history,” Chief Master Sgt. Ashness said.
While she was proud to recognize women’s service in the military, Chief Master Sgt. Ashness said every veteran deserves recognition.
“We need to work extremely hard and with integrity to keep our veterans proud,” she said. “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, because they have made that sacrifice – and it is important to remember that.”
With a crowd gathered around the University Flagpole, RWU community members recognized a fallen alumnus and the efforts of those who serve the RWU military community.
A prayer was dedicated to alumnus and 2nd Lt. Joseph D. Fortin ’08, who died August 23, 2009, in Iraq. “We hope he inspires courage and excellence in citizenry,” the Reverend Nancy Hamlin Soukup said in concluding the prayer. Fortin’s parents, Betsy and Martin Fortin, laid a wreath at their son’s memorial at the base of the flagpole.
Two RWU community members were wished “hail and farewell” in RWU tradition. Lt. Col. Troy Kennedy, who has served as officer in charge of RWU’s Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadets for the last four years, is leaving for a position in Illinois. Dorothy Cabral is retiring after serving over 30 years as a technician with ROTC at RWU and across Rhode Island.
The University also recognized the effort of first-year architecture graduate student and retired Army Staff Sergeant Juan Ocampo in applying to establish a Student Veterans Association.
A second ceremony at the School of Law honored fallen alumnus and veteran Nathan J. Schuldheiss ’05L. The special agent from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations was killed in Iraq in November 2007. U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Captain Michael Jolin of the Rhode Island National Guard joined President Farish, RWU Law Dean David Logan and members of the law school community in rededicating a memorial tree that honors Schuldheiss.
“It’s my privilege to have my son, Nathan, honored not only today, but also with the way Dean Logan and the Law School treats his memory,” said Jeff Schuldheiss. He called the memorial and Veterans Day ceremony “a gracious gesture from your hearts.”
Schuldheiss often visits the tree, which he calls “my most treasured memorial to Nathan.” It reminds him of his son, who at a young age displayed an aptitude for language that foretold his passion to become a lawyer. “He was proud to go to Roger Williams School of Law,” Schuldheiss said.
As part of RWU Law’s ceremony, “Veterans of Valor,” a photo collection featuring the school’s veteran community, was unveiled in the Second Floor Atrium at the School of Law. The event was co-sponsored by the Military Law Society.