What started off as a quiet, intimidated room full of students attending the Military Panel at Oxford College on Wednesday, turned into a engaging and moving experience between both the soldiers and audience.
Many students did not know what to expect when they first walked into this unstructured panel. Some thought it would be a recruiting session, others just went for extra credit for a class. A student even asked how long the panel was going to be and if they could leave early, but that soon changed as the panel started. The program was supposed to be only an hour long, but it ended up being two hours long filled with students engaging with the panel and asking them questions about their experiences and opinions on things such as war and the media. Not a single person left the program early, in fact most students stayed behind to shake hands and thank each of the five soldiers at the panel.
The panel drove four hours from Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga. The panel consisted of Colonel Richert, Master Sergeant Setlock, Technical Sergeant Bozeman, Senior Airman Garner, and Airman Keyes. All of the panel have served in either or both Iraq and Afghanistan. They also all hold different jobs across the military spectrum. Garner works in the back of planes on humanitarian missions and then you had Bozeman who defused bombs.
"It made us appreciate the smaller yet equally important roles behind the front lines," said student Steven Yuen.
After each of the soldiers introduced themselves and expanded on their roles in the Air Force, the panel began to take questions. Quickly, the room became filled with tough questions. However, the friendly atmosphere of the panel made the students feel more at ease as they asked difficult questions on the soldiers' thoughts about the war, the media, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A girl asked about how the soldiers viewed all of the negative media portrayal that surrounds the wars. Bozeman answered, "You get a very skewed view of what's going on. The media goes for the knee-jerk reaction. They're going to find the most vile, war atrocity thing we've done and plaster it all over the news. They won't be so quick to show all the counter-insurgents, humanitarian work we've done, and what we've provided for that country - money, infrastructure, women's rights, and education we've instilled for the children in Afghanistan."
Richert closed the panel with one last thought for the students, "If you run into Vietnam veterans, they didn't get clapped for when they came home. Be nice to those guys. College students spit on them when they came home."
Richert began to tear up at this point. Student Amy Van Pelt said, "It made me tear up! That was the most powerful moment of the panel for me."
The students walked away from the panel with a new perspective and respect for our men and women in uniform. For the first time, many students felt the reality that only one percent of our nation deals with every day.