July 23, 2020, KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – From one veteran to another, service is an important word that means honor, sacrifice and dedication. At Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech), the Student Veteran Program (SVP) continues to act on this by recently providing aid to veterans in Klamath County through their new program called “Vets Helping Vets.”

Oregon Tech students who are part of the SVP perform community service projects helping elderly and disabled veterans. Starting in May, the students began working at the Veterans Enrichment Center in Klamath Falls, cleaning up the exterior and performing landscaping. This allowed the students to maintain social distancing while helping the Center prepare for the return of visitors when it reopens after quarantine. Students Brandon Wright (Communication Studies, U.S. Army) and Clinton Lytle (Renewable Energy Engineering, U.S. Navy) worked hard on this first project. Brandon was excited about the project and stated, “With all of the challenges we have endured this year, it feels good to get out there and help those in need, especially within the veteran community.”

Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vets Helping Vets team continued their work by helping a veteran and the spouse of a deceased veteran with tree/debris removal in Rocky Point. Word of their work quickly spread and veteran Ray Ruger reached out to SVP for help at his Chiloquin residence. Ray is a 70-year-old disabled veteran who is currently battling cancer, making many tasks difficult or impossible. Brandon rallied the team and brought together three SVP members to help Ray at his property in mid-June. Brandon and Marco Ortega (Software Engineering Technology, U.S. Army) spent the day with Ray, splitting and stacking two cords of wood and picking up and relocating two more cords worth of rounds. SVP president, Isaac Gilmer (Mechanical Engineering, U.S. Marine Corps), also assisted with the project at Ray’s house. He said, “We are proud to be able to assist veterans and families in need during this difficult time. We feel lucky that we are able to assist with work outdoors while maintaining social distancing for our own safety and most importantly the safety of these elderly and disabled veterans. They served, we served, and we’re glad to still be able to help them despite health-related restrictions.”

The team will return to Ray’s in late July to help with more projects. Brandon hopes the Klamath County Veteran Services Office can assist in finding community help for Ray with a septic repair project, but the Oregon Tech students will repair his deck railing and cut more wood during the July visit. Brandon shared that the team looks forward to returning as Ray has recently undergone cancer treatment in Portland. “It’s moments like these where our work means more to people than ever,” said Brandon. “I’m happy that we have been given this opportunity to help out someone who really needs it and appreciates it.”

The members of the SVP are dedicated to satisfying the needs of any veteran, Active Duty, reservist, and dependents of the Oregon Tech and Klamath Community College community during and after their own time as a student, staff or faculty. With the direction of the elected officers of SVP and support from the Veterans Action Committee (VAC) comprised of faculty and staff, the SVP reach out to the greater Oregon Tech and Klamath community to build friendships and partnerships based on the same honor, duty, loyalty, and selfless service instilled in all veterans.

Oregon Tech has a growing veteran and military-affiliated population with over 283 students currently utilizing Veterans Affairs benefits to reduce or cover the cost of their education. The SVP has over 50 active members who regularly visit the Veteran Resource Center on the Klamath Falls campus and attend SVP-sponsored events. Respiratory Care associate professor, Jeff Pardy, serves as adviser of the SVP. Pardy is former U.S. Navy and has been integral in the SVP since 2012 (when it was the OVA). He has served as committee chair of the VAC since 2014, supporting and guiding the efforts of the SVP team.

Jeff Pardy said, “The SVP has been an important entity on campus as they help other veterans and dependents become successful in reaching their degree goals. Besides the events that they hold on campus to entertain and create enjoyment among all students, they have offered services to support students including study areas furnished with computers, books, free printing, snacks and just a place where you can get away from it all. Out of all my experiences at Oregon Tech, the SVP has been one of the best to see the successes that they can achieve when working together.”

The Vets Helping Vets program will continue even while Oregon Tech is on summer break. Retired Colonel Jeff Smith served over 24 years in the Air Force and now works with Oregon Tech in Military Outreach. Jeff shared, “I am proud of the Student Veteran Program team and how they have come together to assist community veterans in need. This is truly a good news story, and we can all use a little more good news right now!”

If you know of a veteran in need of support, you can reach the Oregon Tech SVP team in multiple ways. You can leave a voicemail at Jeff Smith’s phone number: 541-885-0416. You can also email the SVP at veterans@oit.edu with a copy to jeff.smith@oit.edu and brandon.wright@oit.edu. If the work is outside the scope or capacity of this team, they will assist in referring veterans in need to the Klamath County Veteran Services Office or other local resources for support.