Pandemic brings new challenges to NIU’s Veterans Association

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Patrick Murphy

An American flag at the Barsema Alumni and Visitor’s Center on Nov. 3.

Greg Gancarz, Reporter

DeKALB – The annual Veterans Day flag ceremony held outside Altgeld Hall has been canceled by Military Student Services due to NIU’s COVID-19 restrictions, Brian Berchtold, staff advisor of the NIU Veterans Association said.

In a typical year, about 40 to 50 people attend the event, Berchtold said. Despite the outdoor nature of the event, the ceremony honoring the flag and nation’s veterans was another victim of NIU’s pandemic clampdowns. 

“I think [Military Student Services’] hands were tied based on the restrictions that are placed on the campus,” Berchtold said. “They’re just following the guidelines that are put out from Altgeld, from the [university] president and the provost.”

Earlier restrictions saw the temporary banning of all in-person classes throughout much of September, and bans are currently in place that restrict all meetings greater than ten people, according to mass emails sent out periodically from the Division of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications. 

The Association’s biggest event of the year, usually held in April, which highlights homelessness among veterans, will also likely be canceled, Berchtold said.

Restrictions on campus not only affect celebrations and events but have also caused day-to-day operations of the NIU Veterans Association to come to a halt. Plans for the volunteer-run organization to increase recruitment efforts, in particular, have been stymied by campus restrictions, Berchtold said. 

“We’re at a hold. This semester, we were going to do a really big focus on recruitment, but because a lot of students are now online students, and we’re supposed to be distancing, we can’t do the recruitment events that we want to do,” Berchtold said. “Also, most of the members [were] commuters, so there’s no reason for them to come to DeKalb [anymore].”

The purpose of the NIU Veterans Association is the advancement of student veterans, their rights and their benefits, through an environment of camaraderie, social activity and service to the community, according to the group’s Facebook page

“One of our main goals is to help re-establish the camaraderie that we had when we were in the military,” Berchtold said. “That’s something that veterans tend to miss most when they leave the service.

Although the organization’s plans are delayed, they will not be totally canceled, Berchtold said.

“We’re still in a holding pattern, waiting until things are able to be opened up more, and then we can go right into the plans that we were developing that were going to be implemented this semester, such as increased recruiting events and increased visibility at other campus halls,” Berchtold said. “[We want to] get some more locations than just the library and the commons to get those students that wouldn’t normally walk through there.”

The group is still active virtually on Huskie Link and Facebook and will be participating in the Flag Ceremony organized by the American Legion at 11:11 a.m. Wednesday, held off-campus at Memorial Park, located at the intersection of First St. and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, Berchtold said.

“If there are veterans out there that would like to connect to other veterans, we’re out there, Berchtold said. “Feel free to just send us a message or just add yourself to the group or comment. We can get to know you better from there.”