Opinion

College’s token of appreciation touches vets | Klaas

Michael Farnum, Army veteran and Green River Community College student, shows the ‘challenge coin,’ commemorating the school’s inaugural graduating Veteran Conservation Corps class in the natural resource/GIS program. - Mark Klaas/Reporter
Michael Farnum, Army veteran and Green River Community College student, shows the ‘challenge coin,’ commemorating the school’s inaugural graduating Veteran Conservation Corps class in the natural resource/GIS program.
— image credit: Mark Klaas/Reporter

The "challenge coin" serves as a memento of who he is, what he stands for, where he has been.

For Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Menchaca, it reminds him of arduous duty, of a trial by fire that trained a young man to spot the enemy and direct fighter jets to destroy him.

The Battle of Fallujah is etched into his mind.

"It was heavy combat," said Menchaca, a Camp Pendleton Marine and radio operator who fought in one of the Corps' fiercest urban battles since Vietnam. "It was intense."

Decorated for valor in Iraq, Menchaca and other veterans paused last week as Green River Community College's Veterans Coordinating Council honored them for their military service. Menchaca – a GRCC sophomore from Milton-Freewater, Ore., who is studying aviation – and other military veteran students, faculty and staff received specially-designed coins to mark the occasion.

Jon Arnhold, the college's retiring educational planner and a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy, received the first coin. Many veterans, past and present, followed, 75 in all.

"Our military men and women have protected our democracy … our freedom … our way of life. They have done so individually and collectively," said Deb Casey, the dean of student services and chair of the VCC. "Today we honor each of you with a challenge coin symbolizing GRCC’s commitment to you individually."

The coin also commemorated the college's inaugural graduating Veteran Conservation Corp class in the natural resource/GIS program.

The coin – a token of the college's appreciation – represents many things to the 26-year-old Menchaca, who conducted two tours of duty in Iraq and remains with the USMC Reserves.

"It's a reminder that I will always be a Marine and that I still need to carry myself in the manner of a Marine," said Menchaca, a sergeant.

The coins have a rich military history dating back to World War II. Members of military commands were awarded the coins – usually made of brass – which displayed the command’s emblem on one side and various, specialty inscriptions on the other side. The coins were a way of showing camaraderie and pride of units to which the veterans had been stationed or assigned, said Michael Harris, a Navy veteran, member of the VCC and GRCC administrative assistant for the director of enrollment services.

Students designed the GRCC coin for local students, faculty and staff.

Through symbolic tokens and diversified services, the college continues to work wonders for veterans. In particular, the VCC helps returning soldiers resume their education, spurs them on to meaningful careers and eases their transition back to civilian life.

"They were very helpful, from paperwork to aid," Menchaca said.

Michael Farnum, a recently retired, 22-year Army veteran, appreciates the council's good guidance.

Farnum found his way through the college's nationally recognized and heralded Veterans Conservation Corps. The program helps hundreds of vets study and train to enter the growing "green" jobs field. Its primary mission is to help veterans by providing volunteer opportunities on projects that protect and restore Washington’s rivers, streams, lakes, marine waters and open lands.

Farnum enjoys the outdoors and working the land.

The former sergeant, a family man and second-year student, is working toward his degree in natural resources/geographic information systems. His career goal is to work in research and analysis with GIS in forestry or wildlife management.

"It's a good fit," said Farnum, who served as a Calvary scout in reconnaissance. "Being a soldier, I like being outdoors."

Through the college's programs, the 42-year-old Farnum is able to realize his career dreams. He didn't finish high school, but the military provided him with good training and experience, a prelude to building a career in civilian life.

As a team leader with the Veterans Conservation Corps, Farnum saw firsthand the program's volunteer work on restoration projects throughout the Puget Sound area and its ability to work directly with program managers at all levels.

"As a result, some of these managers are noticing the value veterans can bring with them," Farnum said.

Farnum has made the most of his opportunities. He served the country abroad, and now he is looking to preserve it back home.

Such service hasn't gone unnoticed at GRCC. A commemorative coin is only the latest way to honor veterans for a job well done.

"Whenever I look at this coin, it brings back fond memories, friendships and a sense of belonging," said Farnum, who has collected a number of coins throughout his military career.

"To me, the coin is really appropriate and in recognition for those who served and sacrificed," Farnum said.

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