The Brown ROTC Color Guard led a procession from the flagpole on the College Green to Soldiers Memorial Arch on Simmons Quad to kick off Brown's 2021 Veterans Day ceremony. Photos by Nick Dentamaro / Brown University.

Date November 11, 2021
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Veterans Day ceremony at Brown honors veterans, welcomes new ROTC members

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, an Army veteran, joined University leaders, student veterans and Brown ROTC students who are future members of the Air Force, Army and Navy in celebrating the service of the nation’s military.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Amid the brilliant red, yellow and orange leaves decorating Brown’s campus on a sun-dappled autumn afternoon on Thursday, Nov. 11, were a few other distinctive colors — the bright blue, mottled brown-green and deep navy of U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy uniforms, respectively.

A notably large group of uniformed students and guests fell into step behind the Brown ROTC Color Guard as part of a procession from the College Green that kicked off the University’s 2021 Veteran’s Day ceremony. The event honored the service of veterans past and present, affirmed the University’s commitment to those who plan to serve and welcomed U.S. Sen. Jack Reed — a U.S. Army veteran and chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.

“Brown’s commitment to veterans is ongoing,” University President Christina H. Paxson said. “I want to stress that it's a commitment not just to honor our veterans on one day, but to understand their unique experiences and embrace them as members of the Brown community all the time.”

The annual ceremony was held on the Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle, near Soldier’s Memorial Gate, the most prominent campus marker honoring military service and one inscribed with the names of the 42 members of the Brown community who lost their lives in World War I.

Brehan Brady (second from right), a junior and Army veteran, and Hayley Gasbarro (right), a junior and soloist, were invited to participate in the event.

Rhode Islander Hayley Gasbarro — a Brown junior whose father, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Jay Gasbarro, just returned from a deployment in the Arabian peninsula — offered a stirring rendition of the national anthem, and a series of speakers offered tributes to service and pleas to improve support for military veterans. The event featured an ROTC Contracting Ceremony, during which current Brown students were sworn into service as members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. This year, a total of 16 students — the most since Brown renewed its ties to ROTC programs beginning in 2016 — pledged allegiance to the Army, Air Force and Navy.

Before leading the Army cadets through their oath, Lt. Col. Tyler Jones noted the significance of doing so on Veterans Day: “I can think of few better ways to honor veterans than to hold a contracting ceremony where we can show how the next generation of our nation’s leaders is also willing to answer the call,” he said.

Jones also cited the exponential growth in participation of Brown students: Over the past two years, the number of Brown students who are cadets in the Army ROTC program alone has nearly doubled, from 10 to 18. And 36 Brown students in total serve in ROTC programs across the Army, Air Force and Navy chapters.

“ We should never stop listening, never stop caring, and always lend a helping hand to the men and women that sacrificed for our freedom. ”

Katie Yetter Brown senior and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

In his remarks at the ceremony, Sen. Reed confessed to a bit of nostalgia while watching the contracting cadets.

“I took the oath of office with the same words at West Point,” Reed said. “That has been a unifying element in our military throughout our 200-plus of history. The dedication to the constitution, not, as one of our distinguished officers said, to an individual, but to ideas of democracy, of freedom, of equality of justice.”

Reed noted the importance of an academic institution like Brown truly embracing its ties to the U.S. military and supporting students who have served or will serve. With each military branch staffed by volunteers, he said it’s critical to ensure diverse representation from schools across the nation so that the country’s armed forces truly reflect the communities they are charged with protecting.

Reed also talked about how the military needs service members with the skills and talents that emerge through pursuit of a higher education.

“We require cultural ambassadors, role models, mediators and public service experts,” he said. “I saw, particularly as I went through Iraq and Afghanistan, that the role of a soldier, sailor, airman was not just simply kinetic. It was connecting with the population. It was understanding what's going on. Those are the skills that developed at places like Brown University and other great institutions. And that's another reason we need you.”

Earlier in the week, Reed met with many of Brown’s expanding population of military-affiliated students in a private event hosted on campus. For the first time ever, Paxson said she worried about running out of seats to accommodate everyone, given the significant expansion in Brown’s military partnerships and an initiative to double the number of military veterans enrolled as Brown undergraduates by 2024.  “That was a really good problem to have,” Paxson said.

The sheer number of Veterans Day ceremony attendees served as another reminder. Paxson noted the visible changes in the size of the crowd, from “a couple of handfuls” when she came to Brown in 2012, to over 100 in 2021. There are currently 79 student veterans at Brown, including undergraduates, graduates and medical students, in addition to the 36 ROTC members who will serve the country — numbers that are only growing.

“Our commitment to our veterans is translating into very meaningful results,” Paxson said.

She expressed gratitude to student veterans not only for their military service, but also for the ways in which they’ve enriched and inspired the community at Brown.

“It's how they're approaching their time here, who they aspire to be, what they hope to accomplish as students, as professionals and as citizens throughout their lives,” Paxson said. “You are leaders and doers, ambitious and collaborative and driven by the knowledge that your contribution will have an impact in our world.”

"The military requires cultural ambassadors, role models, mediators and public work experts. Those are the skills that are developed at places like Brown University and other great institutions."

U.S. Senator Jack Reed U.S. Army Veteran
Sen. Jack reed

As one example, she mentioned Brehan Brady, a Pawtucket, R.I., native who served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, earned an associate’s degree from the Community College of Rhode Island and transferred to Brown where he’s now concentrating in German studies and, soon, history.

Another military-affiliated student — Brown senior Katie Yetter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is president of Brown’s Student Veteran Society — reminded the audience that Veterans Day is a time not just to celebrate service, but to call attention to the need to better support veterans who transition to civilian life. She reflected on her own feelings of vulnerability upon leaving the military, and offered a sobering reminder of how transitioning out of the support system the military provides can put veterans in a vulnerable and potentially dangerous position.

Reed Paxson
The event began with a procession from the College Green to the Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle.

“For many, including myself, taking the uniform off for the very last time can be as significant as the day that we took our oath,” Yetter said. “This transition period makes veterans vulnerable to many challenges, including suicide and incarceration.”

Loss of structure and camaraderie found in the military can increase the likelihood of substance use disorders and involvement with the criminal justice system, she noted; and every day, 22 veterans lose their mental health battle on American soil.

“That is one veteran, every 65 minutes,” Yetter said. “That means veterans are coming home, but are not receiving the support they need to fight these internal battles.”

She concluded with a passionate appeal for increased support from the military, corporations, educational institutions and society as a whole for transitioning service members.

“We should never stop listening, never stop caring, and always lend a helping hand to the men and women that sacrificed for our freedom,” Yetter said. “This is why we celebrate Veterans Day.”