SMU and the Cox School of Business marked Veterans Day, November 11, with a special ceremony this year, announcing the naming of a Veterans Garden on the Hilltop. Two student veterans groups, SMU Military Veterans and the Cox School’s Veterans in Business, helped organize an event to honor fellow SMU students, alumni, faculty and staff who served in the Global War on Terrorism.
During a ceremony held in the garden area between the Cox School and the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, Cox Veterans in Business President Peyton Dekker and Cox Dean Matt Myers, faculty advisor to SMU Military Veterans, unveiled the prototype for a specially commissioned plaque dedicated to veterans of the War on Terrorism. SMU President R. Gerald Turner announced the plaque, which is currently being crafted, will become a permanent part of what will now be called the SMU Veterans Garden.
The plaque was made possible through the sponsorship of 7-Eleven and company President and CEO Joe DePinto, who is also a military veteran. Cox Professor of Practice Jason Galui, a 20-year Army veteran, was keynote speaker. He reminded the audience that veterans of the Post-9/11 All-Volunteer Military Force experienced multiple deployments, sometimes back-to-back as the United States sought to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States, our citizens, allies, and partners.
“Future World Changers must be diligent and engaged citizens in our society, especially if – as President Lincoln said at Gettysburg in November 1863 – we are to remain ‘dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought have thus far so nobly advanced,'” said Galui.
The retired lieutenant colonel taught and mentored two generations of West Point cadets. He deployed to Kabul in 2011-2012 and served as Strategic Advisor to the Commanding General of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Commissioned as an Armor officer, Galui led soldiers in combat during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and held leadership positions from the platoon level to the White House.
“I believe in the American Experiment,” Galui said. “I hope this plaque will serve as a reminder to the students, staff, and faculty who walk this campus today – and to those who will walk it in the future – that the American right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not free. Our nation has paid for these freedoms – and all their imperfections – with the blood, sweat, tears, and invisible wounds of our fellow citizens who volunteered to serve the Nation through the military uniform.”
One of those veterans who is part of the Post-9/11 all-volunteer military force is the president of the Cox Veterans in Business Club Peyton Dekker, MBA ’22. Dekker shared the story of an SMU alum Army Lieutenant Army Lieutenant Colonel Eric John Kruger, who graduated from SMU with his BA in 1988 and came back for an MLA, which he completed in 2002. Lieutenant Colonel Kruger died on the first day he set foot in Iraq in 2006 as part of the Global War on Terror. His father, a Vietnam U.S. Army veteran, and family attended the ceremony. Dekker thanked the Kruger family for their sacrifice and reminded the audience why the all-volunteer members of the modern-day U.S. military answer their country’s call.
“Specifically, the Post 9/11 generation of veterans volunteered during a time of war, meaning we knew that volunteering would likely mean going to war in an ambiguous environment where we couldn’t see our enemy, and the lines between right and wrong wouldn’t always be clear. This generation of veterans willingly gave up the comfort of our lives to enter the unknown, not knowing if we would come back. Sadly, not all of us did, and that is why we are here today. To honor those who did not come back.”
The Veterans Day ceremony was part of two days of events at SMU to thank the service and sacrifices of all veterans, especially those who are part of the SMU community.