Columbia College holds third annual Military Recognition Day

Columbia College honors all who serve or have served in the military.

Columbia College held its third annual Military Recognition Day on May 27 at the R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium, at the corner of Rangeline and Wilkes Boulevard, on the main campus in Columbia, Mo. The event recognized alumni, students, faculty and staff who have served or are currently serving in our country’s armed forces. Nearly one-third of the college's 28,000 students are military, and 18 of Columbia College's Nationwide Campuses are on military bases, including the only institution providing in-seat classes at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The college's Fort Leonard Wood campus also celebrated the day with music and videos. Last year, the campus honored the fort's Wounded Warriors and one outstanding military student; this year, two outstanding military students and a local VFW commander were honored.

The day began on the main campus with a gift by George Ousley Jr. '78 and his wife Gayleen, naming the Ousley Family Veterans Service Center. Ousley said that he believed his cohort was the first in college history to attend evening classes under the GI Bill and "the instructors, everyone, was so helpful. They understood we had full-time jobs and families" while pursuing a degree.

Mike Randerson, vice president for Adult Higher Education and a retired Air Force colonel, said the center had more than earned its keep, with 766 walk-ins, 3,237 calls and 4,523 e-mails from August 1, 2009 to late May 2010. He also said VA certification had increased by 26 percent.

At the soccer field, a massive Missouri Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane droned overhead before discharging four Screaming Eagles, the 101st Airborne Division's parachute demonstration team, streaming red smoke. Dropping at speeds approaching 120 miles per hour, the Screaming Eagles landed on the field, just feet from spectators, then marched to the stage to deliver a U.S. and Columbia College flag that had flown at the campus in Fort Drum, N.Y. A color guard composed of Army, Air Force and Marine personnel then raised the flags as Nollie Moore, instructor of music and director of the Jane Forman Singers, sang the national anthem.

Dr. Gerald Brouder, college president, himself an Army veteran who served in Korea, said, "We are grateful for their [military service members] service and we pray for their safety." Brouder then asked for a moment of silence to honor the fallen, including Columbia's own Private First Class Jason Fingar, killed in Afghanistan May 22, 2010 by a roadside bomb.

Randerson then introduced Tuskegee Airman Col. Charles E. McGee '78 as a "true American hero, an American treasure and my personal hero." McGee took the podium to present a new scholarship that bears his name to Air Force Cadet Patrick Hatcher of Columbia. The two men – one with gray hair in a blazer, the other in a crisp dark blue Air Force uniform – saluted each other.

"Columbia College offered me a chance to get my degree," said McGee. He also said the college and the nation must ensure that future military generations get the same quality education he had.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American men to fly in combat in World War II when African-Americans were generally thought fit only for menial chores. The Airmen's fighters escorted American bombers over the hostile skies of Europe, and their sterling record helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to integrate the armed forces after the war. McGee also commanded fighter and reconnaissance squadrons in the U.S. and Philippines, and he holds the Air Force fighter combat record of 409 missions and 1,151 combat hours – a record unlikely to be broken. He served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 2007, President Bush awarded the Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award.

The Ousleys
George H. Ousley Jr. '78, one of mid-Missouri's most successful businessmen, served in the U.S. Navy at the height of the Vietnam War on the helicopter carrier USS Princeton LPH-5. His son, George H. ("Jay") Ousley III, joined the Navy in 1985 and seemed destined for a brilliant career in the Navy but his life was cut tragically short by a car accident in Rota, Spain. Jay was just 19. Gregory S. ("Greg") Ousley '97 began his Navy service in Orlando, Fla., and was ultimately assigned to the Moffett Field, Calif. VP-40 ("The Fighting Marlins") P-3 squadron as an intelligence specialist. Greg is the fourth generation of Navy men in the family.

The Ousley Family Veterans Service Center was created in 2009 to provide a support network to facilitate the transition of veterans, military service members and dependents to Columbia College and to understand and address their unique student support needs. Columbia College is honored to have the name of this patriotic family for its veterans center.

Columbia College has been educating military servicemembers for nearly 40 years and is a member of both the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges and Community College of the Air Force networks. Columbia College understands the military lifestyle and Military Advanced Education has named Columbia College one of 20 gold standard military-friendly institutions with an enrollment of more than 2,000.