CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – To salute the effort of supporting a United States National Guard member during their deployment, two Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi departments were presented the Patriot Award on Nov. 17.
Dr. Sarah Skelton, a psychologist at the University Counseling Center (UCC) who has also served in the National Guard for 13 years, nominated both the UCC and the Division of Student Engagement and Success (SEAS) for their support during her 2016-2017 deployment to Iraq and her activation to duty after Hurricane Harvey.
“After I was hired at the University, I only worked here for seven months before being given one day’s notice that I was deploying to Iraq,” said Skelton. “After serving for 15 months in Iraq, I was only back on campus for three days before I was activated for Hurricane Harvey. I am overwhelmed with the amount of support I received at the Island University – from thoughts and prayers to help with my transition.”
Dr. Don Albrecht, SEAS Vice President, and Ann DeGaish, SEAS Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, accepted the award on behalf of SEAS. Dr. Theresa Sharpe, UCC Interim Director, and Dr. Carla Berkich (posthumously) accepted the award on behalf of the UCC. Degaish also received a 176th Engineer Brigade coin for her advocacy work with student veterans. The giving of a coin is a long-standing tradition and indication of gratitude in the military.
The Patriot Award is given to recipients that demonstrate a belief that hiring National Guard and Reserve member benefits their employment community. The award reflects the efforts made to support citizen warriors such as flexible scheduling, time off pre- and post-deployment, connection with families during deployment, leave of absence for deployments and continued pay.
“Both departments were highly supportive by continuing my salary pay and company benefits while I was on active duty,” Skelton said. “They also hired someone to fill in my role without penalizing me, and on multiple occasions during my deployment, they recognized me as a special asset for my service in the National Guard.”
The Patriot Award was presented by Colonel Charles Schoening of the Texas Army National Guard. Col. Schoening is the Commander of the 176th Engineer Brigade. During his deployment, he was in charge of 2,500 soldiers in eight different countries.
During the awards presentation, Col. Schoening recognized the importance of mental health issues facing military member and the advantages of collaborating military and civilian skill sets. During her deployment, Skelton provided combat stress control to soldiers in Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield.
“Sarah went to Iraq and saved lives,” said Col. Schoening. “It’s no secret that there’s a high incidence of suicide within the military. Within a week of her arrival in Iraq, you could tell the difference. Moral was improving. It’s my job to bring soldiers back alive, and I did it with her help.”
Skelton gifted SEAS and UCC each with a flag that flew over Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve. During her time in Iraq, she displayed an Islander flag.
Following the Patriot Award presentation, Col. Schoening met with Student Veteran Organization leadership, Garrett Brundage, and took a tour of the SVO lounge, located on the second floor of the University Center. Col. Schoening met with Islander Army ROTC leadership and toured the UCC. Col. Schoening met with four student veterans – Karina Rodriguez, Garret Brundage, Falcon Layton and Melvin Brantley – who are currently serving in a Reserve or National Guard component. They discussed ways that the Island University supported them as student veterans. He thanked them for their dedication and perseverance.
Skelton applies her skills and knowledge of military psychology to assist Islander student veterans at the UCC. To learn what counseling resources are available for student veterans, click here.