The first snow of the season dampened Veterans Day events this year, as the annual parade in Edwardsville was canceled. However, SIUE veterans and ROTC cadets recognized the day in their own ways and reflected on their experiences.
Amanda Depew, of Centralia, Illinois, joined the Air Force at 23 years old when she was already a wife and mother. Depew said she initially enlisted because she was looking for more stability for herself and her family. Depew comes from a military family, with her parents, grandfathers and all of her uncles having served, which contributed to her decision to enlist.
As one of the few women in the armed forces, Depew said she experienced unique challenges but was able to form deep and lasting bonds with those who served alongside her.
“I enlisted into a career field that was male-heavy, so that had its challenges,” Depew said. “But eventually it was just like I had a group of big brothers ... and a lot of us are still in contact to this day.”
Depew completed deployment tour in Afghanistan from August 2004 to January 2005 and worked as a munitions operator, which she said was both challenging and rewarding.
“I had an unusual career field working as a munitions operator,” Depew said. “So that meant working around and with anything that goes ‘boom,’ so that’s a very challenging career.”
The challenges Depew faced did not end when she left the service, however. According to Depew, her biggest challenge since leaving the Air Force has been readjusting to civilian life.
“It’s definitely different there than it is here, so that’s my main challenge actually — doing this transitioning,” Depew said. “And I’ve been out since 2007, so imagine 12 years later still trying to fit in.”
Depew is now seeking a bachelor’s degree in social work and is an active member of SIUE’s chapter of the Student Veterans of America, where she enjoys sharing her experiences with younger veterans.
“My experiences at my age are going to be different from most of the students here because, even though I’m in the SVA, which I love having that camaraderie and being around other veterans, I’m still a 40-year-old woman in this group of 20-something-year-old dudes,” Depew said.
Depew said she celebrated this Veterans Day by reconnecting with the airmen who served with her and remembering those who were lost.
“I celebrated Veterans Day by reconnecting with my old buddies and just reminiscing about the things that we did, the things that we don’t miss, and then, although it’s not Memorial Day, we still will always remember those that we lost,” Depew said.
Cadet Liam Elliott
Like Depew, Liam Elliott, a senior history major from Petersburg, Illinois, comes from a military family. Elliott said he initially enlisted in the National Guard before becoming a contracted cadet with SIUE’s ROTC program.
Elliott said the training he has received through the program has been more extensive and varied than most people assume.
“Here at the SIUE ROTC program, we’ve flown in Black Hawk helicopters, we’ve done repelling, we’ve done high rope courses, we’ve done obstacle courses,” Elliott said. “So, the training is a lot more than what people realize.”
In addition to the ROTC program, Elliott is also attached to 233rd Military Police Company out of Camp Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, where he completes annual training for two weeks each summer.
“They let me shadow a platoon leader there and figure out what exactly their role is and where they fit into the bigger grand scheme of the operation, and I’ve gotten some very, very good training there,” Elliott said.
Elliott said his training has shaped his college experience and given him tools that he plans to use going forward in life.
“I couldn’t even imagine what my college life would be like if I wasn’t a cadet in the program,” Elliott said. “It’s given me a lot of opportunities, and it’s given me a lot of characteristics and traits that I can carry with through my entire life.”
For Elliott, Veterans Day is a time to reflect and express gratitude for those who have enlisted before him. Elliott said he especially looks to thank those who served in the Vietnam War because of the negative responses some experienced upon returning home.
“I kind of use it as a day to just reflect and try to go out of my way to find people who have served and just let them know this support is out there, especially Vietnam War veterans because they paved the way for veterans today to come home and get a clap on the back and a ‘Thank you for your service,’” Elliott said. “They came home and got treated quite poorly, and so they really paved the way, and I don’t think they ever got that ‘thank you’ that they earned.”
Cadet Nathan Goodsell
For Nathan Goodsell, a senior construction management major from Waterloo, Illinois, enlisting in the military was not his original plan. Goodsell said he planned to go to college on a baseball scholarship, but when his scholarship fell through, he decided to follow in the footsteps of generations of his family members by enlisting.
Goodsell said he was enlisted for nearly three years before his father encouraged him to contract and pursue becoming an officer.
“It got to about honestly a few months before I was told I was about to get my E5,” Goodsell said. “And then I talked to my father who is prior service, and he said, ‘Why don’t you look into the officer route? You know, you’re a pretty good leader, you should check that out.’”
For Veterans Day, Elliott said he has a tradition of attending the St. Louis parade with his father and listening to his stories.
“Usually, my father and I will go down to the St. Louis parade,” Goodsell said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go this year, but usually every year, even if I can’t go with my dad, we have a pretty long conversation. He kind of tells me his war stories that he’s allowed to tell me.”
This year, Goodsell said he had a relaxed Veterans Day but was struck by the scene of restaurant-goers coming together to sing the National Anthem.
“Whenever I went to Texas Roadhouse [Monday], it was pretty cool because they actually stopped all the music, everyone was quiet, and they played the National Anthem, and everyone just started singing” Goodsell said.