The Charger Blog

University Celebrates Accomplishments of Student Veterans, Recognizes Supporters

Hosted by the University’s Office of Military & Veteran Affairs, the Salute to Service Awards Ceremony brought the University community together to recognize student veterans, military-affiliated students, and the many Chargers who offer their unwavering support.

May 12, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S. (left) presented Rudis swords to Anthony Camera ’23 (center) and Erik Clement ’23.
Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S. (left) presented Rudis swords to Anthony Camera ’23 (center) and Erik Clement ’23.

Since leaving active duty in the U.S. Army in 2019, Erik Clement ’23 has been committed to helping other veterans transition from military service to higher education. He says that his own transition was “seamless,” thanks to the support of the University community and loved ones, and he wants to ensure that other veterans have the same experience.

A business management major, Clement held a Student Experience Coordinator work-study position with the Military Veterans Service Team. He brought his interest in human resources to the veteran community, spearheading the Career Objective Rally-Point (ORP) program. The transition-assistance program helps veterans navigate challenges they may face when seeking employment.

Clement was recently recognized as part of the Office of Military & Veteran Affairs 7th Annual Salute to Service Awards Ceremony, where he was presented the student award.

“I am profoundly grateful and honored to have received this award because it’s a recognition from my peers and colleagues who have supported and encouraged my efforts to help the student-veteran community,” he said. “The Salute to Service Ceremony was a fantastic event. It enabled us to commemorate our achievements collectively and form a lasting memory. Moreover, events for veterans can create a supportive atmosphere where they can share their stories, experiences, and difficulties with those who can empathize and form a stronger sense of community.”

A crowd of people gather, holding their hands over their hearts.
The Salute to Service Awards Ceremony brought the University community together to honor student veterans and those who have supported them.
‘Doing great things in and out of uniform’

Held in-person for the first time since the pandemic, the event brought together students, staff, faculty, and families to honor student veterans and celebrate their accomplishments. More than 200 student veterans are part of the University community, excelling in the classroom, making an important impact on campus, and landing competitive jobs with agencies such as the FBI, FEMA, and the NSA.

Ryan Noonan ’20, ’23 M.S., manager of Military & Veterans Affairs at the University and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, says the event was an important and poignant way to celebrate the achievements of student veterans and all they bring to the University.

“The acronym RISE stands for resiliency, integrity, service, and excellence, and it is on full display with our student veterans and military-affiliated students,” he said. “They bring their military and life experiences with them and make connections that traditional students may not make, and they help their peers to similarly succeed. This success and leadership carry on with them once they leave the University and begin their careers.”

That was the case for the event’s guest speaker, Joseph Danao II ’04 M.S., a graduate of the University’s graduate program in fire science and a retired Lieutenant Colonel who served in the Connecticut Army National Guard for more than three decades. Recently named acting commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, Danao encouraged students to continue to be leaders, and to remain connected to their alma mater.

Left to right: Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S., Joseph Danao II ’04 M.S., Taritha Middleton, and Claude Campbell.
Left to right: Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S., Joseph Danao II ’04 M.S., Taritha Middleton, and Claude Campbell.

“We have many University of New Haven veteran students, staff, and alumni who are doing great things in and out of uniform,” said Danao, who has also served as president of the University’s Alumni Association. “I applaud each and every one. Do not forget the University. The alumni network is strong and must remain strong. Grow it and nurture it, so we can share this great experience and education with our future military service members.”

A commitment to students

As part of the ceremony, several members of the University community who have illustrated their commitment to supporting the military and veteran student community were recognized. In addition to Clement, the University’s One Stop Student Financial and Registrar Services Office was recognized. Taritha Middleton, assistant registrar, accepted the staff award in recognition of One Stop’s continuing dedication to supporting military and veteran students.

As with the staff award, because so many faculty members have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to military and veteran students, the faculty award was presented to an entire academic college: the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences. More than 40 percent of the University’s veteran and military-affiliated students are enrolled in the Lee College, and Noonan commended its faculty for their support. Associate Dean David Schroeder, Ph.D., accepted the award on behalf of the Lee College.

During the ceremony, Maria Garcia, Connecticut’s VITAL (Veteran Integration and Transition into Academic Leadership) coordinator, received the off-campus community award. It recognized her commitment to serving as a resource for students, providing regular availability to students on campus, and offering dedication to support their mental health. Claude Campbell, representing the Veteran Affairs branch of U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s Office, also presented certificates to the award recipients.

Dr. David Schroeder (second from right) accepted the faculty award on behalf of the Lee College.
Dr. David Schroeder (second from right) accepted the faculty award on behalf of the Lee College.
‘It's been an honor’

Anthony Camera ’23, a criminal justice major and member of the University’s Military Veteran Services Team, was also recognized. He and Clement were each presented a Rudis – a wooden sword with a history extending back to Ancient Rome. Like gladiators who were granted freedom for distinguishing themselves in the arena and then presented a Rudis and following a similar tradition adopted by the U.S. Military, the Office of Military & Veteran Affairs presents the wooden swords to outstanding VA work-study students. Noonan, who received one in 2020, presented them to Camera and Clement.

“Receiving this means so much to me,” said Camera. “The Salute to Service ceremony was nothing short of amazing! It was such a memorable event recognizing those who go above and beyond to support our student veterans. We understand those who help us don't do it for the recognition, but it’s important for us to show our appreciation for their selfless dedication and commitment to our community.”

Camera, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2019, moved to Connecticut from New Jersey to begin his time as a Charger. While he admits the transition from servicemember to student was challenging, he says he was very grateful to have had the support of the Military Veteran Services Team. He, too, later joined the team, dedicating himself to offering support to other student veterans who were transiting out of the military.

“Looking back, I can genuinely say that our Military Veteran Services Team changed the projection of my life, and I'm forever indebted to them,” he said. “Because of that, I felt like I owed our student veterans the same level of commitment that was given to me. It's been an honor having been in the position to help our community.”

Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S. addresses attendees during the ceremony.
Ryan Noonan '20, '23 M.S. addresses attendees during the ceremony.
‘A renewed sense of duty’

During the ceremony, attendees also paid respect to POWs, MIAs, those who are still deployed, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The event, which included dinner and dancing, was a fun way to celebrate a community-wide commitment to student veterans, military-affiliated students, and those who have gone above and beyond to support them.

Clement, the business management major, says the support he has received has been invaluable. He says it helped him navigate the various challenges he faced after leaving active duty, and he urges other student veterans to seek help if they feel overwhelmed. He has recently accepted a position as a personnel/labor relations associate at NYC Health + Hospitals.

“Being a part of the Military Veteran Service Team at the University has allowed me to support other veterans, providing me with a renewed sense of duty that I intend to carry into the workforce,” he said.