On Sept. 26, ETSU’s Office of Veterans Affairs unveiled a new Military-Affiliated Resource Center on the ground floor of Yoakley Hall on campus. The renovations cost an estimated $50,000 and feature a full-service kitchen, an enclosed computer and study room as well as a lounge area for students to interact, study or watch TV.
The MARC is open to anybody who is a veteran, spouse or child of someone who served in the Armed Forces or is currently serving. Currently, ETSU has about 690 military-affiliated students, with a goal to reach 1,000 by the year 2026.
“We had set ourselves a goal of 625 students at the beginning of this term and 663 by fall of 2019 … but that doesn’t mean we can get complacent, we can continue to press and maybe reach that 1,000 goal by 2024,” said Antonio “Tony” Banchs, Director of Veterans Affairs at ETSU.
While the university hasn’t always been a gold-standard in military-friendliness, things are starting to change.
“We’ve been a military-friendly school for eight years straight, for the first time we are now military-spouse friendly and we were selected as ‘Best of the Best’ for 2018 among all schools nationwide,” Banchs said.
ETSU also recently gained a gold-level ranking for military-friendliness this year as well. Previously, ETSU had been ranked at the bronze-level for seven years before skipping silver and gaining gold-status in 2018.
“It’s very satisfying [to get gold], but I’m blessed with a very wonderful staff,” said Banch.
While Tony Banchs has played a big role in ETSU’s increased standing among veteran and military-affiliated organizations, it’s been a team effort between him, ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland and the rest of ETSU’s Office of Veterans Affairs.
In fact, Dr. Noland told Banchs to go ahead and explore a new initiative to provide scholarships to pre-Sept. 11 service members whose GI-Bill ran out after 10 years of retirement, children and spouses of veterans.
A university having specific scholarships for spouses is one thing holding ETSU back from increasing their national ranking in that regard, and that’s a priority for Banchs and his staff.
The MARC figures to play a big role in helping veterans and military-affiliated students find people who can understand and who might potentially share similar experiences while serving or while dealing with a parent or spouses deployment.
”I think it’s critical [to have the MARC], there are experiences that some of our veterans have had that no-one can understand, only a veteran can understand,” Banchs said, “Even the families have gone through an experience that only the family members can understand.”
One way the MARC is working to help foster discourse among people with similar experiences, is with a map. The map lists every country in the world and covers an entire section of wall in the MARC. The map, which cost over $800, is dotted in tiny stickers containing ETSU’s ‘E’ logo. The reason for this, is that veterans and family members can look to the map and see that other people may have served or been stationed in the same places without knowing, until now. Something that Tony Banchs saw play out first-hand when he first arrived to ETSU in Sept. 2016.
When Banchs first arrived here, he noted a pushpin in Yemen before finding out both he and another person at ETSU had served in Yemen in the same place, at the same time.
“We found each other halfway across the world here at ETSU, we were at the same place and we found each other four years later,” Banchs said.