Written by Honors Leadership students at the Community College of Allegheny County

CCAC Honors Leadership Students Jenna Beech and Bridget Sluka

CCAC Honors Students Jenna Beech and Bridget Sluka listen to veterans sharing stories at VBC breakfast in Greensburg, PA, November 9, 2022

This fall, Professor Stephen Wells at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) asked if the VBC would work with his Honors Leadership Course on a student service learning project. Part of the project involved students attending VBC events and listening to veterans’ stories. This is what the students had to say about the experience.

“The Honors Leadership course teaches us the main core values of leadership. What it does not convey is that listening is the heart of these core values. Attending these few breakfasts, we sat, we ate, we LISTENED, and we were truly humbled to have been a part of these breakfasts, and this project.”– Joint statement, Honors Leadership Students, CCAC

“I come from a military family.  I am a granddaughter, daughter, and niece of US Army Veterans. My grandfather was 104th Infantry Division in WWII, also known as the Timberwolves.   My father was a member of one of the few MASH Units in Vietnam, although, I do believe they were just called Auxiliary Surgical Hospitals. My uncle was a US Army “tunnel rat” in Vietnam, serving three tours, two after he was severely injured. All three servicemen received purple hearts, as they were injured during their service to our country.  My grandfather was also a recipient of the bronze star.  I was very young, five, when my father passed away, ten when my grandfather passed, and my uncle never talked about his time in Vietnam. Listening to these Veterans speak about their service deeply hit home because I never knew how difficult it was to be in a war.  I could imagine, but hearing it firsthand puts their difficulties into a perspective that made this project one of the meaningful projects I have ever done.” — Bridget Sluka, Honors Student, CCAC

“My grandfather, both my parents, and my husband are veterans. The life stories of the veterans at the breakfasts are humbling. I don’t want to forget my freedoms come at a cost.  I feel we need to remember and respect all of these people. I am very honored to have been speck in this project.” — Cheryl Marszalek, Honors Student, CCAC

“Attending two of the Veteran’s Breakfast Club breakfast events has been a humbling and transforming experience. Although I do not come from a long line of military members, only with a few distant relatives being military personnel, hearing stories and seeing how the military has impacted so many lives has given me a whole new lookout on life. I am so fortunate to live the life that I do because of the brave men and women who have fought and served our country. I hope to be an advocate for all the men and women, young and old who have served our country and continue to serve.” — Jenna Beech, Honors Student, CCAC

“The project moved us to honor two of our own Honors Leadership classmates. Justin Elko was in the Army for three years and has been an active member of the West Virginia National Guard for the past three years. He is also a full-time honors nursing student. He is truly inspiring. It is amazing how he juggles school and his duty to his country.  Jaylin Kremer is another full-time honors student and a new military wife and working mother.  She struggles to juggle a family and school, and handle the profound loneliness of missing her husband.” – Joint statement, Honors Leadership Students, CCAC

Here is Jaylin’s own words:

“The first two weeks really kick start the army experience with no contact of any kind.  Once the letters started coming in it brought a form of relief but did not fix the ache in the pit of my stomach that only my husband holding me can take away.

Bedtime was once my favorite time for this reason. His arms around me were like a form of medicine and I could feel at peace while I drifted to sleep. Now I dread and avoid sleep because I am greeted by an empty bed. I often only go to my bedroom when I am ready to instantly pass out from the exhaustion of all that the day held but find myself tossing and turning to sleep anyway. I cannot tell you how many times the little voice in the back of my head has told me I can’t do this. And I cannot explain to you how loud it is in the silence where I used to hear my husband’s heart beating.

Despite all of this I know that I am now a soldier’s wife. I know that I have to be strong not only for our two small children, but for him. He may be a strong man to the world, as he is to me as well, but I know that I am what keeps him going. I know that if I am weak, I thereby weaken him.

Being a working mom, a student pursuing a degree in law, and a new army wife I have been challenged unlike anything I have gone through before. In moments where I feel completely defeated, I ask myself what my husband would say, and what would I say to him knowing that however I am feeling, he has it worse.

While my days are longer and much harder, ultimately, they are the same. The daily hustle and bustle of getting things done, the house cleaning, taking care of our babies, working to encourage truant children to go to school, or even the dreaded homework I do with one eye open and my fourth coffee. It’s all the same.

For him, everything has changed.  He is in a new environment, 809 miles away from the life he has built with the woman and kids he loves. He is being pushed to the limit in ways I cannot imagine day in and day out. He is being trained to protect and defend our country.

His letters bring me comfort and pain. I am temporarily filled with so much happiness just from seeing an envelope in the mailbox with his handwriting, until I read the words on that paper. I have quickly learned that I can no longer rely on my husband for my strength as I have for the last 12 years. An entire country needs to rely on him now.  And now my husband needs me.

From the PJ pants he left lying on the floor on his side of the bed that I used to hate, but slept with until they lost his scent, to the proud army wife sticker I have plastered on the back of my Jeep, my husband is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

My most heartfelt thank you goes to all of you that have served, and to your spouses.” — Jaylin Kremer, Honors Student, CCAC

“As we get ready to close the term, and this class, we reflect on the values this project has taught us. The freedoms and American values these soldiers fought for should never be taken lightly. Our Service Members, no matter what their branch, rank, or job, are humans, they struggle just like all of us. The families of our veterans are suffering, whether it be from loss or loneliness, and they deserve to have a voice, to be heard, as they are part of the military too.

Our veterans have seen unimaginable atrocities the average citizen could not handle. We learned these breakfasts create a bond between veterans they could or would not have with the average citizen. We should never forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our American way of life. We honor the next generation of soldiers, may they stay safe, but with their heart, defend this great nation. We end this project with a huge thank you to all our veterans past and present, and their families, they have truly taught us a very humbling lesson, listening is everything to someone who needs it.

It’s a value essential to integrity, honesty, and compassion. Thank you so much.” – Joint statement, Honors Leadership Students, CCAC