North Texas Daily

Veteran aims to change stigma of war

Veteran aims to change stigma of war

Mary Montgomery and Joe Robles. Photo by Obed Manuel

Veteran aims to change stigma of war
May 21
17:40 2013

Obed Manuel / Staff Writer

Visual arts senior Joe Robles stands quietly as the Air Force Song melody plays over the speakers in a Holiday Inn ballroom. He tepidly mumbles the words as the three other Air Force veterans in the crowd sing at the top of their lungs.

This is the first time in eight years Robles has worn his dress blues, and he does not have the same figure he had when he left boot camp 10 years ago. Robles gradually sings louder and louder, and by the end of the song, along with his fellow veterans, he loudly exclaims “Air Force!”

The Student Veterans Association of the University of North Texas hosted the first annual Veterans Ball on May 18 at the Holiday Inn in Denton. About 40 students, veterans, friends and family members gathered to honor the members of the Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy.

 Robles, who has attended UNT since January 2010, made it a priority to invite other UNT veterans to the ball despite not being part of the planning process.He spread the message via his Facebook account and by simply talking to other veterans one-on-one. According to the Student Veterans Center of UNT, more than 1,000 self-identified student veterans currently attend UNT.

 Robles served three tours overseas, and was stationed from August 2004 to April 2005 at Camp Doha in Kuwait, June 2006 to March 2007 at Camp Bucca in Iraq and from April 2012 to November 2012 at Thumrait Air Force Base in Oman.

From his own experience meeting veterans who served in Iraq, Robles said he feels that many are reluctant to acknowledge their military service.

 “I know some of them just don’t care,” Robles said. “And I know others are uncomfortable with talking about serving [in Iraq].”

 Robles said that discomfort with discussing service in Iraq is a result of how unpopular the Iraq war is with the American public.

Separate March 2013 polls from Rasmussen Reports and Gallup revealed that a slight majority of Americans see the Iraq war as a mistake: Rasmussen reported that 52 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, while Gallup reported that 53 percent hold the same view.

Tockie Hemphill, director of the Veterans Center of UNT, said she feels it is important for student veterans to take pride in their military service because of the personal sacrifices they each made by enlisting.

“Some came back and had to get readjusted to the friends and family they left,” Hemphill said via email. “Some came back very different from the way they left.”

Armstrong Ekpete, an Air Force veteran and mechanical and energy engineering junior, said he feels that student veterans should at least acknowledge their service in the military because it is a part of their lives.

“Regardless of what we may feel about the war, we always have to do our best to protect our constitution,” Ekpete said. “When I see people being free and expressing themselves, I know I did my job.”

 As the night winds down and the ballroom empties, Robles stares at the centerpiece of his table with a half smile on his face.

 “It turned out better than I expected at first,” he said.

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