Judge Asks University To Readmit Expelled Veteran

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

A Hillsborough Circuit judge is calling on the University of South Florida to live up to its recent ranking as a top “veteran friendly” university.

Judge Greg Holder has asked USF President Judy Genshaft to readmit a student veteran who was expelled after an off-campus incident in August 2014.

Holder said the charges against former Army Staff Sergeant Clay Allred were serious – threatening a store clerk with a firearm and later discharging the firearm into the air – but Allred’s actions were directly related to his combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Allred was accepted in the Veterans Treatment Court, he admitted his guilt, accepted responsibility and was sentence to two years on house arrest followed by three years of probation.

Now after a year of court supervision and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that had gone undiagnosed, Holder said the former Green Beret deserves a second chance to complete his degree.

In his letter dated Nov. 13, 2015, the judge requested that USF re-admit Allred as an online student so he can finish his senior year. Holder even offered to amend Allred’s house arrest to prohibit him from going onto USF property.

“I’m providing whatever protections Dr. Genshaft or her personnel might deem appropriate,” Holder said. “So, that hopefully consistent with USF status as the number two veteran friendly school in this nation, we can get this man back as a member of the ‘Bull Nation.’”

A USF spokeswoman said the university has received Holder’s letter, but could not say if Genshaft has read it. The university declined comment on Allred’s status citing federal privacy laws and added that “USF does not offer online exclusive undergraduate programs.”

Along with his letter, Holder included 40 pages of supporting documentation including Allred’s citation for the Army Bronze Star Medal awarded for his service in Afghanistan training members of the Afghan National Police.

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A Way for Student Veterans to Help Their Families

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Military service involves more than the person wearing the uniform – families are always a part of that equation.

A team of three University of South Florida psychology doctoral students and a graduate of the School of Social Work are conducting a research study looking at how reintegration affects military veterans and their children.

Their focus looks at how veterans are “reintegrating” to both civilian and academic life and also examines the student veterans’ well-being and that of their children.

The USF Coming Home Project is an anonymous online survey for student veterans who qualify:

  • You must currently be enrolled as a student.
  • You must be a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • You have children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The online survey only requires about 15-20 minutes and is anonymous. It examines the impact of deployments on children in military families.

Information about the Coming Home Project survey is available here.

Army ROTC Hosts Annual Golf Scramble

USF ARMY ROTC golf scrambleAs we near Veterans Day, a lot of people are looking for ways to honor veterans and those currently serving. If you play golf or just have fun on the links, here’s an opportunity to support young men and women training to become Army officers.

It’s the 11th Annual University of South Florida Army ROTC Golf Scramble – a rich tradition that helps fund Army ROTC current and future programs.

The event is scheduled Nov. 14, 2014, at Heritage Isles Golf and Country Club, 10630 Plantation Bay Drive, Tampa, FL. The Golf Scramble begins at 7:30am.

In addition to contributing to an organization that strives to build competent and confident cadets, it’s also an opportunity to meet our future 2nd Lieutenants that will be leading our sons and daughters in the U.S. Army. You can register and find more information about teams and sponsorships at USF Army ROTC Golf Scramble website.

Florida Student Veterans Gain an Ally for In-State Tuition

USF President Judy Genshaft

USF President Judy Genshaft

The 1,700 student veterans at the University of South Florida received an early Veterans Day present Nov. 8, 2013 from President Judy Genshaft.

She released a statement supporting the top issue of the USF Student Veterans Association – in-state tuition rates for all veterans.

“As we observe this Veterans Day, the University of South Florida thanks its student veterans for their service to our country and their ongoing contributions to our campuses and our community.

… USF strongly supports the proposed state legislation that grants every honorably discharged veteran the right to pay the Florida resident rate tuition at our public colleges and universities.

Our nation’s veterans deserve our support in ensuring their success. Florida benefits from the leadership skills, maturity and perspective veterans bring to the classroom and to the workplace.”

Florida state Sen. Jack Latvala introduced legislation, CS/SB 84, that allows honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces to be automatically classified as residents for tuition purposes at state universities and colleges.

The bill analysis said the legislation “essentially waives the current one-year requirement for veterans to establish residency before qualifying for in-state tuition. Companion legislation has been filed in the Florida House by Rep. Kathleen Peters.

With her announcement, Genshaft joined Florida State University President Eric Barron who publicly backed in-state tuition for student veterans in September.

Watch President Genshaft’s video message to student veterans.

Chili Contest Brings Together Student Vets and Civilians

The trophy sits in between two judges who cool off their taste buds before sampling more of the chili samples from dozens of competitors at the 4th Annual USF Student Veterans Chili Cook-Off.

The trophy sits in between two judges who cool off their taste buds before sampling more of the chili samples from dozens of competitors at the 4th Annual USF Student Veterans Chili Cook-Off.

The air was filled with the aroma of cumin, sauteed onions and chilis. Dozens of tables covered with food and cookers lined the arena. Four men – the judges – sat on stage behind cloth-covered tables with water bottles at their ready.

Could there be any better setting or better way to come together than over a warm and spicy – but not too hot – bowl of chili?

Pineapple was the surprise ingredient in the 2nd place chili presented by the USF Marshall Student Center staff.

Pineapple was the surprise ingredient in the 2nd place chili presented by the USF Marshall Student Center staff.

That’s the philosophy behind the 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off sponsored by the Student Veterans Association and Veterans Services Office at the University of South Florida.

They recruited dozens of USF departments, student groups and staff to compete in the veterans’ annual event. The idea is to use the competition as a way for the USF civilian community to get to know the student veterans and it’s a chance for them to show off their culinary skills.

After the teams delivered their tastes to the judges – the amphitheater was opened up to eager students who flooded the various booths to taste the various chili concoctions.

First place winners of the USF Student Veterans' 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off, the team from Dining Services with their "I'm chili and I know it" entry.

First place winners of the USF Student Veterans’ 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off, the team from Dining Services with their “I’m chili and I know it” entry.

Judges for the competition included the man many in the Tampa Bay region credit with starting the chili cook-offs, Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto. Rounding out the panel were USF Men’s Basketball Coach Stan Heath, Women’s Basketball Coach Jose Fernandez and Baseball Coach Lelo Prado.

The top three chili winners: 1st place – Team “I’m chili and I know it” from USF Dining Services; 2nd place – The Marshall Center; 3rd place – Team Angelica. Watch the video as they accept their prizes.

Student Veteran Calls for Action in Huffington Post Article

kiersten_3800_miles_for_stu_vetsUniversity of South Florida doctoral student and Air Force veteran Kiersten Downs cycled across the United States this summer to raise visibility for student veterans. And even though her wheels stopped turning August 5th when she arrived in Washington D.C., it doesn’t mean her campaign has ended.

Instead, her “Bike America: Student Veterans Ride for Education” is gaining more national attention. Kiersten just wrote a piece for the Huffington Post:

I am devoted to this cause because I see student veteran organizations as vehicles of social change. Public policy is supposed to be influenced by public discourse, and yet veterans themselves are on the sidelines.

We cannot be passive.

A national discussion is unfolding about who we are, what we need to succeed, and how our past experiences shape our futures. But we must never forget: We are the narrators of our own history. If we do not take control over how the story is written, then it will be written for us, and like in so many cases, work against us.

Kiersten’s journey also was chronicled by MTV-U and was covered by various media outlets. You can read her full Huffington Post article, We Are the Narrators of Our Own History, here.

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

Heat, Dogs, Crashes All Part of Student Vet Biking USA

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

She cycled on average 60 to 70 miles a day for two months. Battled dogs, heat, rain storms, ticks, a few crashes and a gas leak in her support vehicle.

That’s how Air Force veteran and University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs spent her summer.

Her cross-country trek ended Monday when she dipped her front cycle tire in reflecting pond at the Washington D.C. mall and then rode across a finish line established at the National Veterans Center.

Kiersten Downs prepares to dip her rear wheel into the Pacific - a tradition for cross-country cyclists.

June 2, 2013, Kiersten Downs prepares to dip her rear wheel into the Pacific – a tradition for cross-country cyclists starting their journey.

“I kind of rode through the finish line,” Downs said. “I turned around and the first people I made eye contact with were the students from USF, the Student Veterans Association. We had seven people come down. That was really emotional tears started when we locked eyes. And I just dropped my bike and ran up and gave them a big hug.”

She had no time to shower or change before being ushered into a large hall filled with fellow student veterans, dignitaries and political figures including the mayor of Washington DC.

Downs delighted them with anecdotes from her two-month journey cycling across 10 states and covering almost 3,800 miles.

Kiersten Downs (Left) running with Jorge (center) and another student veteran who joined her in Pueblo, Colorado to ride for a day. Leg cramps forced Jorge off his bike so he ran the rest of the way. Kiersten doubled back to join him the final 100 yards. Credit: Biking USA

Kiersten Downs (Left) running with Jorge (center) and another student veteran who joined her in Pueblo, Colorado to ride for a day. Leg cramps forced Jorge off his bike so he ran the rest of the way. Kiersten doubled back to join him the final 100 yards. Credit: Biking USA

“We stayed in 58 different campsites, Walmart parking lots and VFWs and let me tell you there is nothing more American than that,” said Downs to the applause and laughter from the audience.

Her ride had two goals: raise $50,000 for the non-profit organization, Student Veterans of America, and to raise awareness about the leadership qualities and can-do attitude of student veterans.

That student veteran solidarity was demonstrated throughout her trip. At several locations, student veterans would join her ride for a day.

She recounted that three of the veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado had little cycling experience, but stuck with her for 52 miles.

kiersten_finishline_usf_vets

Kiersten Downs (center) at the National Veterans Center was greeted by several friends from the USF Student Veterans Association who traveled to Washington DC to help her celebrate the end of her 3,800 mile journey. Credit: Biking USA

In her video log #4, Downs can be seen running back up the road to Jorge as he came into view with the support vehicle behind him so they could run the final 100 yards together.

“I never considered quitting. The thought never even crossed my mind,” Downs said. “Were there times when I was incredibly stressed out and I had to reassess? Absolutely. Did things go wrong? Heck yeah. We had a gas leak, we had a tick infestation that was disgusting. I never want to go through that again. I was injured. I got sick. So, it was incredibly stressful at times.”

Downs said she’s not been on a bicycle since completing her ride August 5, 2013. She estimates it will take her two weeks to recover before she starts rolling again.

Below is a video of Kiersten Downs speech Monday at the National Veterans Center courtesy of USF media relations.

Watch a video-log from Downs that shows the determination of the student veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado and the auxiliary of the VFW who made them breakfast.

http://youtu.be/rFAnJnMEIHY

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