BOONE, N.C. — Fifteen Appalachian State University student veterans returned to class this week after being called to assist with Hurricane Florence emergency management services and relief efforts in Eastern North Carolina. The student veterans were called in preparation of Hurricane Florence, when Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency.
“For me, it means a great deal to have students involved in the recovery efforts,” said Eric Gormly, coordinator of student veteran services at Appalachian. “When they signed up for their military service, they knew that they could be called away at any moment.”
The student veterans were deployed to a number of areas affected by the hurricane, including hard-hit areas such as New Bern and Wilmington. According to Gormly, as part of the relief efforts, the student veterans likely assisted in small search and rescue missions, as well as setting up sandbags around bridges and other potential overflow areas.
Nevin Darden, a junior criminal justice major from Newton, was one of the student veterans called to assist. He was staged in Greensboro and moved to operate out of Laurinburg. Darden’s mission was to work alongside Scotland County Emergency Management personnel to assist in high water rescue and evacuation.
“We started by helping the county go door to door and issue warnings about flood waters,” he said, “but that quickly turned into emergency evacuations.”
Since returning to class, Darden said he is grateful for how helpful and understanding his professors have been in getting him back up to speed.
“It’s odd to be sitting in class when exactly a week ago you were wading in chest-deep water, helping people out of their submerged neighborhoods,” Darden said.
Gormly said he can relate to the students’ experience — he was deployed to assist in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane, struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Because of all of the unknowns I faced, I have an idea of how our students feel, which is why I wanted to streamline this process for them,” he said.
In 2017, after it appeared student veterans would be similarly deployed because of a potential hurricane, Gormly and Appalachian’s Student Veteran Services developed a process to work with the Dean of Students office to inform professors that students have been called to active duty for hurricane relief or in preparation of a hurricane.
“Yes, they are students, but also part of our military, so they should be able to focus on their mission and know that everything here has been taken care of,” Gormly said.
“That is what makes me love my job,” he said. “I am here advocating in many different ways for these special students that understand it isn’t just about themselves. I know that Appalachian, among other schools, has to feel proud that our students are out there serving those in need.”
A Military Friendly School since 2010
Since 2010, Victory Media, the premier media entity for military personnel transitioning into civilian life, has awarded Appalachian the designation of Military Friendly School. The designation places Appalachian in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are doing the most to embrace military students, and to dedicate resources to ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation. In addition to a number of existing services, the university opened the Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. Student Veteran Resource Center in November 2016.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.