USF Honors Veterans

The inaugural Veterans Day Ceremony, featuring SOCOM parachute jump, honors members of U.S. Armed Forces, USF student veterans.


By Mary Beth Erskine News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 10, 2010) – It was the perfect Florida day – the air filled with the familiar strains of patriotic music played by members of the University of South Florida Herd of Thunder marching band. Service men and women in crisp khaki, white and blue mingling with business-suited dignitaries and students between classes in tee shirts and flip flops.


All gazed upward into the cloudless sky until finally they spotted them: two Para-commandos, members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team from MacDill Air Force Base floating slowly downward. They had jumped from their aircraft from an altitude of 12,500 feet into a two-mile freefall, reaching speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. White smoke circled behind them, and the huge, black canopies of their parachutes floated above. One had an American flag tethered to his lines, fluttering in the breeze, the other a POW/MIA flag.


The two members of the Special Operations Parachute demonstration team, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Russ McDaniel and Master Sgt. Mike Bursaw glided gently to a precision landing on the grass just west of USF’s Martin Luther King Plaza, signaling the beginning to USF’s inaugural Veterans Day Ceremony.


Once on the ground, McDaniel and Bursaw were joined by other members of the SOCOM team: Sgt. 1st Class Mark Milbank, drop zone safety officer; P.J. McManus, assistant drop zone safety officer; and Lt. Col. Kristine Gould, who served as narrator for the event. The team presented a commemorative lithograph to USF Director of Veterans Services Lawrence Braue to mark the occasion.


The Veterans Day Ceremony was the culmination of the university’s first Veterans Week, which included a blend of reflective and celebratory events designed to raise awareness of veterans’ issues and recognize their service. On Monday evening, a presentation of the powerful, two-person play Into the Fire, followed by a student veteran panel discussion examined the struggles of veterans as they return from war and reintegrate into their families, communities, educational institutions and the workforce. To inspire friendly competition among USF departments and student organizations the USF Student Veterans Association hosted a chili cook-off on Tuesday.


USF student veteran Barbara Bustamante, president of the Student Veterans Association, acted as host for the Veterans Day Ceremony held today. The event included the Presentation of the Colors by the USF ROTC Joint Color Guard, singing of the National Anthem by USF student Lieutenant Michelle Smith, USN, NROTC, and an invocation by Chaplain James R. Taylor from the James A. Haley VA Hospital.


Speakers included USF President Judy Genshaft, and Major General Luis Visot, Commander 377th Theater Sustainment Command and executive director of USF’s Joint Military Leadership Center. They were followed by keynote speaker Lieutenant General Martin Steele, USMC (Ret.).


Steele reminded ceremony participants that there are 25 million veterans living in the United States today. Of those, almost one-third, 7.6 million, are veterans of the Vietnam War, and 5 million have joined the military since 1990. Referring to those who joined the military directly following 9/11, he called them all “selfless to a fault, determined to be part of something bigger than themselves.


“Let us be reminded that we owe our freedom, including our academic freedom, to those willing to make a sacrifice most of us can’t even imagine.”


“This was the perfect day, ending the perfect week,” said Braue. “I’m very proud to be a veteran.”


Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.