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Vets Get 'Squared Away' Through Community Service

June 15, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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(From left): Fernando Chavez, Trey Metcalf, Ruben White, Brenda Alanis, Nate Brown, and Joseph Sanchez are among the many veterans who work with "Squared Away," an organization devoted to performing goodwill projects such as painting, repairing and cleaning up spaces in the Huntsville and surrounding community. —Photo by Brian Blalock

 

For many Sam Houston State University veteran students, their military service may have ended when they left their military bases, but their service to the community has not.

Through Squared Away, a group of veterans has been performing “low-liability” projects such as painting, repairing or cleaning up spaces as a means of easing former soldiers back into civilian life by allowing them to utilize the skills many of them honed while in the military.

“We get certifications all the time that go to waste when we get out of the military,” said Squared Away founder and president Nathan Brown, a senior political science major and Navy vet. “We’ve been certified through all these different programs, from the most basic things like pressure washing to the most technical things like air traffic control. The thing that I always thought was such a shame was that we do all this work and then it all goes to waste.

“A lot of these skills actually are transferrable into the civilian world, but once veterans get a college degree, they go by the wayside because their college degree supersedes anything they learned in the military,” he said. “But while they’re in school and making that transition, they can still use what they learned in the military to bring some good to wherever they are. And right now that’s Huntsville.”

That is the philosophy behind Squared Away, named after a term understood by military personnel as being “above standards.” Since the fall semester, when the organization was established, the group has done landscaping work, repaired bulkheads on Lake Conroe, and, at Christmastime last year, repaired the floor of a woman’s home that was damaged by flooding.

A Squared Away teammember repairs the floor of a home occupied by a low-income Huntsville family. Nathan Brown calls this work "my proudest moment with the organization." —Submitted photo

“That was my proudest moment with the organization; when I, along with three other Squared Away workers, repaired the floor of a low-income Huntsville family whose home had suffered significant water damage and had become a safety hazard for the residents, including two small children,” Brown said. “The selfless commitment to service of the workers allowed us to complete this job nearly free of charge to the family, save the cost of materials.”

The idea for Squared Away came last summer when Brown was approached by a local businessman to do some side work.

“I realized that he only asked me to do it because I am a veteran, and he trusted me,” he said.

His familiarity with the veteran population, his knowledge of their skills and the need he saw within the community among the less able-bodied seemed like a natural fit.

Brown said he began making contacts and seeking out ways in which he and other veterans could conduct one-time, goodwill projects for people.

“I think it’s good for students to branch out from the university and connect with the people here who are so disconnected,” he said. “I really hate to see that, especially when Huntsville is a town that could use a little bit of work all around and there are so many people here who are capable of helping.

“I am hopeful that Squared Away will become an organization that creates a better, more livable world, powered and supported by those who understand that a measure of a life truly is its service.”

Their work was recently recognized by SHSU’s American Democracy Project, which presented Brown with $1,000 to support their mission.

In addition, the work, he said, has not only brought him closer to the Huntsville community but to the veteran community as well, allowing him to meet other veterans he otherwise wouldn’t have met.

“My vision for Squared Away is for the organization be visible on campus, so that when a veteran comes to Sam Houston it would be right there in their face,” Brown said. “We know veterans coming to Sam Houston don’t know a lot of people on campus; they come from all over the United States, or the world in a lot of cases, and a lot of them don’t have family in the area, but they can be involved in an organization where they can be with like-minded people from all branches of service.

The group also takes on tasks such as clearing out land in the Huntsville area. —Submitted photo

“It’s almost a step-down approach into civilian life,” he said. “Each division of the military is pretty sectioned-off from the other ones, and then that group of the military is sectioned-off from everyday civilians. This is a way for them to integrate into a group of just veterans and then graduate into regular, ‘civilized’ life.”

Personally, Brown said he feels a sense of making a difference in a way he didn’t feel when he was in the Navy.

“I didn’t really go into combat. I was at an on-air traffic control base. I deployed one time, to Japan,” Brown said. “When I got out, I wanted to do more. I was a little embarrassed when people would thank me for my service; it just seemed like a little bit too much.

“I have a civilian appreciation for the military because I wasn’t actually involved in a lot of the ‘combat activities’ that go on, but I got to see them firsthand and that just gave me a whole lot of respect for them,” he continued. “I come on campus and I see a lot of the veterans here who are just so disoriented; they’ve been in this whole (military) world and then they come here and are dedicated to still being upstanding members of society but they just don’t have an avenue for it. Squared Away gives them the opportunity to channel that desire into something positive; that’s the way I see it.”

This is a sentiment resounded by Brown’s fellow veterans.

“I want to keep serving my country in civilian life, and I believe that Squared Away gives me that chance by helping the community during my time in college," said Joseph Sanchez, junior computer science major.

For more information on Squared Away, or to request the group for a project, contact Brown at ndb007@shsu.edu.

 

 

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