Lake Tahoe Community College president: Commitment to do more for veterans (opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Lake Tahoe Community College president: Commitment to do more for veterans (opinion)

Jeff DeFranco
Guest Column

There is nothing like taking a walk in someone else's shoes for creating real understanding of what others experience, and the sacrifices people quietly make in their daily lives.

This Veterans Day, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the work our brave men and women in the United States armed forces perform. I've just returned from being a guest on the USS Carl Vinson, the U.S. Navy's third Nimitz-class supercarrier based out of San Diego, now located more than 100 nautical miles off the coast.

I saw first-hand the teamwork, innovation, and camaraderie that our armed services create. During a welcoming session, I and other guests heard a lot about the pride and professionalism of today's Navy — but we could all clearly see this in practice for ourselves.

This ship and its inhabitants are performing dangerous work: after a tour in the contested waters of the South China Sea earlier this year, the warship is next heading out for a series of training exercises before deploying to replace the USS Ronald Reagan in the Western Pacific, to monitor North Korea amid escalating tensions with the West.

To be able to witness these men and women preparing their ship and each other for that kind of real-world pressure was an amazing experience I'll never forget. This was also a special experience for me personally, as both my father, Allan DeFranco, and my grandfather, George Quadros, served in the Navy.

As I walked the grounds of the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado before departing for the carrier, I reflected on my grandfather's service as an aircraft mechanic at that same base more than 70 years ago, during World War II.

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As the son of Depression-era immigrants, it was his military career that allowed him and many other members of the "Greatest Generation" to build a prosperous life and a pathway for me and generations to come.

With these thoughts in my head, I was flown out to a fully crewed-up Carl Vinson, with 5,000 service members on board and 70 aircraft. I was allowed to witness their workday– day and night flight operations and all that that entails, plus a look at the well-oiled machine that is an aircraft maintenance production line.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous work environments in the world, so watching our Navy F-18 fighter jets conduct precise cat-shot launches and pull off delicate tail hook landings was something to see. Watching nighttime flight operations from "Vulture's Row" drove home for me the amazing precision and seamless teamwork this work requires.

It really takes a small city of highly skilled people to keep a multi-million dollar fleet of highly advanced military aircraft in top shape, and our Navy pilots safe. And yes, I got to experience what it's like to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.

It was thrilling, terrifying, and a few other things too — those G-forces are no joke. But it’s the experience I had with the crew that has changed me and left me with lessons that will inform my work at the college.

For one thing, until you've seen it for yourself, you may not fully appreciate the high level of specialized skills needed in a modern military.

That, combined with the kind of self-containment and calm under pressure required of the job, means that our current service people and veterans have many more advanced capabilities and relevant experiences than we perhaps realize.

This background makes them outstanding contributors in any number of professions, even ones that may not seem on their surface to naturally lend themselves to a military background.

As a college president on a campus serving dozens of veteran-students each quarter, I now have an even better understanding of how much they have to contribute, and the vast skill sets they bring to campus.

Community colleges like Lake Tahoe Community College have a crucial role to play in serving our veterans and ensuring that their education leads to fulfilling careers, either in or out of the military. For those who aspire to rise in the ranks and become military officers, a four-year degree is a must, at a minimum.

Many service people earn their four-year degrees through affordable online options, and that's a specific area where California community colleges like LTCC can and do provide a vital source for accessible, high-quality online education.

But whether we serve them online or in our physical classrooms, veterans come to us with advanced, specialized skills – we need to provide them with an educational experience that acknowledges what they already bring to the table, and gives them the support they need to take their next step, whatever it may be.

LTCC took a big step in better supporting student-veterans with the opening of our Veterans Center in 2016 – a safe place on campus to learn, relax, receive academic or emotional support, and to network with other former military members.

I know we can do even more, and that's what I am committing to on this Veterans Day. The crew members I just had the honor of standing alongside on the USS Carl Vinson and the veterans who will come to LTCC to better their lives after service deserve no less.

Jeff DeFranco is the superintendent/president at Lake Tahoe Community College. To see more from my trip aboard the USS Carl Vinson, please visit my Twitter account at http://www.twitter.com/jeffdefranco. You are also welcome to contact me by email at president@ltcc.edu.