UK student veterans share their stories to celebrate Veterans Day


The University of Kentucky ROTC program displays an American flag during the National Anthem prior to the game against EKU on Saturday, September 9, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky defeated EKU 27 to 16. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Bailey Vandiver

Approximately 350 current students served in the United States Armed Forces before ending up in a UK classroom.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said that in addition to the student veterans at UK, UK supports about 300 more student veterans at BCTC because the two institutions share a VA counselor.

In honor of Veterans Day, two UK student veterans shared their stories of service and of becoming Wildcats.

Mechanical engineering junior Harry Smith described himself as a 26-year-old black-American veteran.

Smith said that he had been planning to join the Army, as older generations in his family had.

“But 18-year-old me walked into the wrong office,” he said. “That is how I ended up going Navy.”

Smith served five years in the Navy as a Sonar Technician, achieving the rank of E-5. He served as a Tactical Coordinator onboard T-AGOS class vessels and did antisubmarine operations along with his team.

After his time in the Navy, Smith came to UK because it is “the college of my family,” he said.

“I am a native son of Lexington, so by geographical choice I decided to attend this university, and I’m damn proud about that,” he said. “Several family members attended the flagship university of the state, meaning my family bleeds blue.”

Smith is now the president of the Student Veterans of America chapter here at UK, but he did not immediately become involved with the organization. He said he first heard about it in the fall of 2015, but kept his distance.

In the summer of 2017, he worked as an AmeriCorps Kentucky College Coach on Campuses for veterans.

“The civilians in that program helped me to come out of my shell and actually engage in the campus community,” he said.

Smith said that Anthony Dotson, director of the Veterans Resource Center, got him and numerous other student veterans involved in the campus community.

“The UK 101 course he provides to veterans has been instrumental in student veteran success on campus,” he said.

Smith said Dotson’s course has led to the highest graduation rate in the state among student veterans.

Smith said he spends Veterans Day reflecting on the sacrifices of veterans and encouraged others to do the same. He said people should use the day to critique the state of the United States.

“I spend it pondering what kind of citizen and person I want to be and how, as a society, we can improve, how we can be better than the generations before us,” he said.

“Most importantly, question the role that the government plays in sending young women and men to fight in conflicts that are not in the best interest of our country, but rather benefit the military-industrial complex,” he said.

Smith advised others to ensure that every veteran is given due respect and dignity.

Michael Chambers had been out of the Army for about a month and had decided to go into nursing when he saw an ad for the MedVet program at UK in the local newspaper, the Ft. Campbell Courier.

“Well, the rest is history,” he said. “Almost as if it were fate to see that ad when I did.”

Chambers worked as a medic in the Army for four years, stationed in Vilseck, Germany, with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

Chambers said that after serving as a medic, he knew he wanted to stay in the medical field, and nursing seemed like the best option to build upon the knowledge and experience he gained in the Army.

Chambers said he chose UK because the nursing program was nationally ranked, the school had a rich tradition and it was a great community in which to raise a family.

“And I heard the basketball games were pretty good, too,” he said.

Chambers toured another school as well, but once he visited UK, he was sold.

“The staff and faculty at the Veterans Resource Center and College of Nursing were down to earth and genuinely cared about my success,” he said.

Through the MedVet program, Chamber gained credit for his medic experience in the Army. Chambers said he has several great resources available to him though the VRC and MedVet program.

“After being here over a year now, I am positive I made the right decision,” he said.

Chambers will be spending Veterans Day in the emergency room.

“Not as a patient,” he said. “I’ll be doing my clinical observation that day.”

Chambers said he will be thinking of those who serve, have served and those who “unfortunately are not with us today.”