By: Brittney Payette
At 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 6 in the Bentley Gardens, Cameron University’s VetFest celebration began with the firing of the Salute Howitzer, the French 75 cannon and Cameron’s Big Ollie.
Coordinator of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vickie Henson, who has been at Cameron for 38 years was in charge of organizing the VetFest activities and works in the Veterans Affairs office.
“We’re a full-service VA office,” Henson said. “So, we do a lot of events that revolve around benefits that are available to service personnel and to veterans, so that they know what’s available … we have a lot of veterans who don’t necessarily know what their educational benefits are, but they also don’t know about other types of VA benefits that are available.”
She said that one of the goals of the VetFest resource fair that is to provide diverse information to people, including information about benefits and services that their organization provides.
“We have over thirty organizations representative from the federal level, from the state level, and also from the community,” Henson said. “All of them are related to things that are either military or veteran related subjects.”
Some of the organizations present at the event included representatives from the Muskogee VA educational office, representatives from the VA’s human resources department and service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars group among others.
She also said Cameron’s VA office started the resource fair in 2011 and decided to expand from that and have VetFest.
“This is our fourth time to do VetFest,” Henson said. “We’ve tried to take it and turn it into a, literally a celebration of our military and our veterans that occurs during the entire week. So, we have 7,000 flags that are flying on campus.”
She said Cameron’s VA department hosted a third and fourth grade class from Bishop elementary school.
“They were able to come, and we had the Southwest Institute of Martial Arts (who) did a 45 minute program for them, teaching them about the martial arts,” Henson said. “They are led by a veteran … he was gracious and they came and did the show for us for free for the kids. From there, we invited the Cameron family to be able to join in and watch that martial arts presentation.”
She said after the martial arts presentation finished, they broke up into learning stations.
“I had a living historian from the Fort Sill artillery museum,” she said. “That taught them about revolutionary war, I had the learning station where they got to color a patriotic football, and a learning station where the medicine park aquarium was here.”
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 6-7 in the McMahon Centennial Complex’s parking lot there were outside displays including the French 75 Cannon, robotics and humvees. Also present was Fort Sill’s mascots Big Deuce the donkey and Shortround the goat.
Other events included a discussion about current events affecting Oklahoma veterans from John Nash, the State Secretary of Military and VA, a discussion about famous Native American Veterans from Kevin Pohawpatchoko, the Comanche Indian Veterans Association Commander and Carry Metkowski, an executive officer from Chick-Fil-A who discussed leadership.
“The goal is that veterans and our military personnel and their families get information that will improve their lives,” Henson said. “That’s what it’s all about. So, sharing information that will improve the quality of lives of the people that we are here to serve.”
She said she loves all of CU’s VetFest events for different reasons.
“I get to interact with so many people that are just awesome,” she said. “I love all of it because the resource fair, we have so many people that give up their time to come share information with others. I love that we have speakers up here that are available that can share information that can change lives.”
Henson said seeing the 7,000 American flags out on campus honoring the veterans brings a smile to her face.
“I hope it touches hearts,” she said. “And lets them know that we love and appreciate them. And that’s what this entire week’s celebration is about … We care about them, and they’re special, and we appreciate their service to our country.”
Henson said that there is another VetFest happening in the Spring.
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post 1193 representative Veronica Lewis said they participated in Cameron’s resource fair during VetFest last year too.
“Different veterans or their family members came through,” Lewis said, “asked us questions, and when we found out about it this year, we called to make sure we’d be able to set up again this year.”
She said the VFW does a lot of fellowshipping.
“Our mission is to help the veterans, their family members and their dependents and orphans,” Lewis said.
VFW’s other representative present at the resource fair was John Morgan, who said he enjoyed interacting with other organizations at VetFest.
“We put out a lot of information about the VFW,” Morgan said.
For more information about the VA at Cameron, contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org.