Shippensburg University student named national Student Veteran of the Year
By AMBER SOUTH
For a generation of young adults, the most formative period of their lives so far began on Sept. 11, 2001.
That molding, for some, involved nothing more than simply living in a post 9/11 world. But others took routes they may have never encountered in a world without thick, black clouds of burning jet fuel hanging over the remnants of American freedom.
As a ninth grader, Joshua Lang watched as hijacked planes brought down the World Trade Center in Manhattan and crumpled a section of the Pentagon, drawing a deep line in American history between then and now, same and different.
In Lang’s hometown of Bedford, the 9/11 terrorist attacks struck close by, some 40 minutes away in Shanksville. “It made me feel like I needed to do something to serve my country and this great nation,” he said.
Last Saturday in Orlando, Fla., Lang, 25, was named Student Veteran of the Year by the national organization Student Veterans of America. The shock of hearing his name was soon followed by a feeling of near-nirvana.
“I received a standing ovation of over 700 people. It was very powerful,” Lang said.
A senior political science major at Shippensburg University and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, Lang has spent his adult life protecting the country he loves and the well-being of service members who fought alongside him in the past, present and future.
“This award represents the hard work from student veteran leaders across the country. That is why I wake up every morning eager and dedicated to supporting veterans on their pathway to success,” he said in a statement.
Lang started at SU in 2009, four years after he was accepted in 2005. In January 2010, he became the president of the school’s chapter of Student Veterans of America.
Lang believes student veteran organizations have a profound impact on veterans makign the transition into civilian and college life.
“When these student veteran organizations advocate and work with administrative staff and recognize the unique lifestyle, adversity and leadership that veterans bring to a college campus, they can effectively leverage that and empower student veterans to do phenomenal things,” he said.
Lang’s example gives other student veterans a better opportunity to achieve the mark he knows they can reach.
His position with SU’s SVA is just one of many hats Lang has worn in support of student veterans. In November 2010, he became the Pennsylvania SVA outreach coordinator and established relationships that allowed him to increase support for service members as they made the military-college transition.
Also in that position, he hosted Pennsylvania’s first SVA state conference; since then, a second state conference took place last year at Penn State University, and another is planned this year in Pittsburgh, he said.
“I go to these conferences, and when I look out in the audience I can see future business leaders, future government leaders. It gives me great pleasure to see that,” Lang said.
He jumped up in the SVA ranks in December 2011 to become the vice president of National Leadership Council.
Lang’s long list of other accomplishments includes:
- In Pennsylvania, he served as a personal liaison to the deputy adjutant general for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs on policies and initiatives relating to veterans who are pursuing post-secondary education degrees;
- consulted and visited 20-plus colleges on recommendations for creating successful support programs for veterans;
- co-created a veterans education website to provide tools and resources necessary to ensure successful graduation of veterans in higher education (securing funding now to launch in coming months;
n and testified before the Pennsylvania Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, and Education Committees on issues and challenges for student veterans and service members and Pennsylvania and provided recommendations for advancing the support network, among other accomplishments.
- nationally, Lang provided non-binding advice, recommendations, and guidance to the executive director of SVA during quarterly reviews;
- and he represented SVA at more than 12 media outlets, five-plus third party conferences including serving on a student panel at the Department of Defense Worldwide Conference, and voted on five federal legislation proposals relating to advancing the support for veterans in higher education and attended several events pertaining to the overall mission of SVA.
But before Lang could show his passion to support his fellow student veterans, he had to gain it through his experience as an active service member.
He entered the U.S. Army with the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Brigade (4-73 Cavalry), and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The 4th Battalion was founded in June 2006. Lang took part in the ceremonial activities, which he said was a big honor.
“I was actually part of a pretty big deal,” he said.
Lang served in Afghanistan with the 4-73 from January 2007 to April 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Starting as a driver, he moved up in ranks. As a gunner, he was the person responsible for manning the weapon system on a Humvee; he then moved on to become a dismount, and was responsible for talking to local individuals and setting up look-out posts.
He eventually was promoted to sergeant and became a team leader.
“We worked in training new soldiers on basic soldier tasks according to basic army regulations,” he said.
Amid the foreign surroundings and military atmosphere, Lang achieved a great level of camaraderie with his fellow cavalry members. It existed both on and off the battlefield.
“You knew what move your fellow solider was going to do,” he said.
After returning from Afghanistan, Lang transferred into the Pennsylvania National Guard, and was stationed in Chambersburg with the 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry division. He was a team leader until completing his service there in December 2011.
For Lang, entering Afghanistan was like entering any other new part of life. He compared the initial culture shock and necessity of learning a new environment to what one may experience upon entering college.
But the daily grind of a military mission is far from comparable to that of stateside civilian life, for worrying about outlying responsibilities like bills and appointments holds no place, he said.
“You’re really focused on the mission over there,” Lang said.
That focus and the military training that produced it work together to stave off fear, but feeling on edge came with the territory of being very aware of his surroundings. That helped him to be ready when something would happen.
“In those times of conflict your training really kicks in and you don’t hesitate,” he said.
Lang talked of multiple incidents when he and his fellow soldiers were on the receiving end of battle. Fire fights involving rockets and mortars made for a few close calls, and witnessing the power of improvised explosive devices over people and vehicles was traumatic.
“But when you come back you have that teamwork and comradery in fellow soldiers and close friends to lean on and ask for assistance,” Lang said.
Lang and others pushing for this veteran support give the current generation opportunities that some of those before them did not have. That reality can make it difficult for new veterans to relate to those of the past, Lang said.
“I think the younger generation has a harder time identifying with older-generation veterans,” Lang said. “It’s sometimes breaking that gap that can be difficult in relating to the same sorts of things.”
Education is one part of separation between generations of veterans. In the 21st century, when a college education is increasingly necessary for success, giving veterans the ability to thrive in a higher education institution is vital.
Lang has a firm standing behind this idea, as he works with lawmakers to make legislation for those institutions to be more effective concerning their student veterans.
He met with state Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-160th District, who sponsors a bill that grants in-state tuition rates for all veterans, regardless if they are Pennsylvania residents or not.
Lang is also working to get legislation on priority class scheduling for veterans so that they can take best advantage of the 36 months of benefits that the GI Bill offers. It is often difficult to get a full college education in that time period, especially given the amount of students also receiving priority scheduling, Lang said.
“It’s important that veterans get the classes they need and save as much benefits as possible,” he said.
Lang is supporting state Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-46th District, who is sponsoring legislation created last session to protect the academic standing of service members who are called to serve while attending school. According to Lang, the legislation would give these students an “M” grade for “military,” instead of the typical “W,” for” withdraw,” which means a class was unfinished.
In pushing for these pieces of legislation, Lang is helping himself in shooting for his goal of obtaining public office.
“Through (SVA) I really realized that my passion and what I love to do is public service,” he said.
Reaching this goal would attach another line in Lang’s life to the terrorist attacks that September Tuesday 11 years ago, for he credits his time in the military for his transition from a shy teenager to a strong leader.
“I think in the military I started off being very shy but you start getting into leadership positions and you realize the magnitude of what you’re doing by serving you country in hostile environments overseas,” he said.
Amber South can be reached at email@example.com and 262-4771.