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Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Veteran’s Day celebration for the first time since 2019

Jake Wheatley speaks at the Veteran’s Day celebration last Wednesday, which was the first one since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic put the event on pause. (Photo by Ethan Stoner)

This past Wednesday, the university held its annual Veteran’s Day celebration in Village Park for the first time since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic put the event on pause.

The event was coordinated by doctoral student Aryanna Wagner, who is a combat Army veteran, and the guest speaker was Jake Wheatley, former state house representative and current chief of staff for Mayor Ed Gainey’s office. He is also a former member of the university’s Board of Trustees and served in the Marine Corps.


Like many people, Wheatley did not know what he wanted to do after high school and said that he is still figuring out what he wants to do today, but one commercial on TV led him to join the Marine Corps.


“I often say I’m a veteran by mistake,” Wheatley said during his speech. “But I saw this commercial, and it asked if you wanted to travel the world and get a free education through the Marines… and so I had my mom cosign for me at 17, even though I didn’t know how to swim, and I didn’t like water.”


While in the Marine Corps, Wheatley served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. He was also awarded with the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal and the Southwest Asia Service Medal. He was honorably discharged after suffering from lung issues.


“The Marines gave me a chance and gave me that sense of brotherhood and routine that I needed,” Wheatley said. “Young folks need to understand that there are opportunities to be who they want to be, even if they don’t know it yet, which is what they did for me.”


However, Wheatley’s experience with the Marines also made adjustment back to civilian life very difficult.


“It took me years to figure out that I had anger issues and would drink a lot and years to get the help I needed,” Wheatley said. “There was no buffer period, and so we need to better support our veterans when they get back… a large percentage of the homeless population here are veterans and facing the same struggles I did.”


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about one in 10 veterans has a substance use disorder, and it has been estimated that 13-percent of the adult homeless population are veterans. On any given night, 40,000 veterans are unsheltered or living on the streets.


“Veteran’s Day is beyond this one day,” Wheatley said. “We always need to remember and recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and fought for the ideals of this country.”


Other speakers included University President Chris Brussalis and Dean of Students Keith Paylo.


“This celebration has reinvigorated our support of our veterans and has been well overdue,” Paylo said. “We want our veteran students to get the support that they might not have earlier and be proud of what they have done for us.”


A wreath was on display in Lawrence Hall to honor veterans throughout the weekend, as Saturday was officially Veteran’s Day, the day that marked the end of World War One.


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