07/02/2014 12:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Service, Sacrifice and Education: Paying Tribute to Military Families


It began with an email; one sent to an anonymous web feedback email address, which found its way to me. The request was a simple one. This past summer, the university I work for made an 8,000 mile cross-country journey by bus across 25 states visiting online students, hand delivering diplomas to some, and connecting others with an instructor who had made a huge difference in their learning experience and in many cases, their academic advisors. In all, it was truly an incredible journey that impacted both the students and their families, but even more so, the staff that was able to be a part of it.

And now, this past January, here was an email from a U.S. Marine Corps officer wondering if we would be traveling in the bus again this summer because his wife, "as the spouse of an active-duty Marine. . .has made many sacrifices over the last 17 years." Lt. Col. Ed Caricato of Alexandria, Va. (pictured above with his family), wrote of how his wife Courtney put her education on hold as they moved all over the country throughout his military career.

In 2010, she found our university and entered into a program, which he said proved to be phenomenal for her. He was so proud of her ability to do so well academically while balancing all of the other obligations she had as a military wife with two children. While the family had planned to come to N.H. for graduation, Caricato's recent promotion and work responsibilities changed that plan. For him, a visit from our university would be just one small way of demonstrating the pride he had in her achievements and allowing her to celebrate the completion of a longtime goal.

While there was no plan to travel across the country again this year, this email touched me deeply and I shared it with others. In further communication with Caricato, it was evident how much this meant to him -- and how much he appreciated the many sacrifices his wife had made over the years, putting their life as a military family first before her own personal goals. Working as I do for a university that is extremely devoted to its students, and in particular, its military students, we vowed to do what we could to make this hope a reality.

Then there was another email from a military academic advisor, who told us of a student -- a military spouse -- who lived in nearby Massachusetts throughout her husband's many deployments in his 20-year career as a Marine. His very recent retirement brought the family to Oceanside, Ca., where her own family lived and her dream of walking across that stage in N.H. to receive her diploma waned. It just wasn't possible to fly back in May. Her husband Tom -- her greatest source of support throughout her degree program -- dearly wanted to see his wife receive her diploma after working so hard, holding down the fort at home and sacrificing much over the years.

We learned of Trevor Methena, a U.S. Navy Sailor of the Year for the 7th Fleet over in Singapore, and his many achievements in the military while earning his degree. He is also the father of an infant, balancing countless responsibilities, but seeing them all admirably through. His wife, Monica -- the strongest support Trevor has -- couldn't be prouder of all he has undertaken and accomplished, and was ready to do whatever she could to create a special event to mark her husband's degree completion--so many, many miles away.

And then there was Derald Wise, a U.S. Army veteran, who quickly enlisted after 9/11, along with both of his brothers, following in the footsteps of their veteran father and his father before him. Now in civilian life, he works on post at Fort Bragg as a contractor through Booz Allen Hamilton as the lead Virtual Battle Space 2 developer for XVIII ABN Corps, training soldiers and Marines for combat. Wise also wants to help other students procure internships in his field and works proactively with the university's career center to create opportunities for others. Work and family commitments did not allow for this father of two young children and his wife to travel to N.H. for graduation, yet his wife -- Derald's biggest supporter -- and employer were willing to help us to celebrate his achievements nevertheless.

These are just four stories -- and I hear stories every day; stories that magnify the sacrifices that military families regularly face, of the courage and commitment shown, and of the hopes for the future and the determination students maintain to see their goals through. I am honored -- yes, privileged -- to have stories shared with me, to be offered even a glimpse into the inner workings of what makes people succeed in achieving their goals and about the people who are there behind them every step of the way. Whether it's their husband or wife, a parent or their children, offering inspiration and support -- sometimes it's an academic advisor or an instructor who took extra time just to listen and let them know they believed in them -- it's the students themselves who stay the course and make it happen. They change the trajectory of their lives by believing in the power of education, and so often, I am incredibly fortunate to personally witness the results.

As for these four students, an active-duty Navy service member, two Marine Corps spouses and an Army veteran; their families were able to collaborate with the university to offer surprise graduations that none of us will soon forget.

As we settle into the upcoming holiday weekend, considering what Independence Day truly is all about, I pay homage to those who tirelessly support our freedom through their sacrifice and service -- our military servicemembers, our veterans and their families. Thank you.