Kyle Hatch, who served as a medical corpsman in the Marines, wins recognition for military personnel

When Kyle Hatch walks across the stage at Reser Stadium today to receive his diploma from Oregon State University, he’ll be wearing an honor cord draped around his neck. 

Like the double-stranded white cords worn by top-achieving summa cum laude graduates and the triple-stranded black, orange and white cords worn by Beaver athletes, Hatch’s braided red, white and blue cord signifies a particular distinction: He’s a veteran.

Until recently, there was no piece of academic regalia to distinguish OSU students who had served in the military from their fellow graduates. But today, thanks to the efforts of Hatch and others like him, an estimated 200-plus vets and newly commissioned graduates of the ROTC program will wear the red, white and blue at commencement.

“I figured this was a great way for Oregon State to really step up and thank veterans,” Hatch said.

It’s a small gesture, but one that marks significant progress in the university’s acknowledgment of veterans on campus.

Hatch, who served as a medical corpsman with the Marines from 2002 to 2008 — including two tours in Iraq — began his academic career at Linn-Benton Community College before transferring to OSU. He was struck by the disparity in the way veterans were treated.

“(LBCC) did a good job. Veterans services were all in one spot,” Hatch said.

“When I got here it was a little different. I couldn’t just go to one place.”

In fact, he felt, there was a general lack of awareness of veterans at Oregon State. Considering the large ROTC contingent on campus and the numbers of students returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he thought something should be done about that.

Since arriving at OSU in 2011, Hatch has been heavily involved in veterans affairs, including stints as director of a student government veterans task force, treasurer of the Veterans and Family Student Association and president of Omega Delta Sigma, the student veterans fraternity.

Together with other student veterans, he’s worked with faculty and staff to improve access to resources, adapt programs and upgrade facilities, including the Veterans Lounge in the Memorial Union — dedicated in 1929 in honor of World War I servicemen.

Today, he says, things are much better, citing the hiring of a veterans resource coordinator as evidence of the university’s commitment to address the needs of returning military personnel.

“I would have to say, for the most part, Oregon State’s done well,” he said. “Things are great now.”

Hatch began pushing for the honor cord — officially known as a Veteran and U.S. Military Recognition Cord — after coming across one in a graduation catalog. He did a little research and discovered they were in use on a handful of campuses across the country and figured that Oregon State — known in military circles as “the West Point of the West” for its extensive ROTC program — should join the parade.

OSU approved the new academic honor last year, in time for a few students to wear the cords at graduation, but there will be much more participation this year. It’s important, Hatch believes, to remind people of the service performed by military veterans — and to let veterans know their sacrifice is appreciated.

“Veterans risk their lives to give us the freedoms we have today,” he said.

“As we’ve pulled out of Iraq, we’ve doubled the numbers (of student veterans),” he added. “As we pull out of Afghanistan, if we continue this trend, we’re going to have even more. And we need to be prepared to welcome them with open arms.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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