For a community that has long been known as Military City, USA, being "military friendly" just comes with the territory. But now Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) has taken that to the next level. They’re not just military friendly, they’re "military embracing" – they’ve even trademarked the phrase.
To find proof of that culture, one need look no further than the campus on the south side of San Antonio. Patriots’ Casa, is one of the first academic veterans facility in the country, designed to provide academic and psychological support for student veterans, their military families, and military members enrolled at the university. The 20,000-square-foot facility had its ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday.
If the opening ceremonies are any indication of the military embracing culture, the school means business. Before the three-hour program kicked off at 11 a.m. with the 323rd Army Band, “Fort Sam’s Own,” a veterans benefits fair had been in progress for two hours.
Texas A&M System Chair Emeritus Dr. Richard Box served as master of ceremonies. He praised the “marvelous progress” that had been ongoing at the San Antonio campus, and called the Patriots’ Casa “a beautiful, functional, and just plain delightful tangible reminder of the military embracing university.”
Box was followed by a long line of speakers, among them U.S. Representative Pete Gallego (D-Dist. 23), Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commander of U.S. Army North, and District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran, whose district includes the University.
“As beautiful as the building is, what happens inside will be much more transformative,” Viagran told the crowd.
Maria Hernandez Ferrier, founding president of A&M-SA, spoke passionately about the mission of Patriots’ Casa. She described military embracing culture on the campus and said the grand opening of the building would be the highlight of her seven years with the university system. It was recently announced that Ferrier would step down in January to take on a new role with the system as director of Development and Mexico Relations.
The keynote speaker for the event was Texas State Representative Joe Farias, (D-Dist. 118). He called Patriots’ Casa “our chance to fulfill our promise” to America’s veterans. Farias called himself an “ol’ Army E-5,” who was humbled to be taking the podium after such luminaries as a three-star general and a university president. He praised the services and programs offered at Patriots’ Casa, adding that if they had been around when he transitioned from the military it would have given him a jump start on his career.
“Maybe I would have made it to the House of Representatives before I was 61,” he quipped.
After Farias’ remarks, he was joined on stage by Ferrier, Box, Viagran and five others who all took part in the official ribbon cutting. Afterwards, as the guests filed into Patriots’ Casa for self-guided tours, they were presented with a special coin and book commemorating the facility and the day’s events.
The Patriots’ Casa bills itself as “an academic home for the brave.” Its purpose is to help ensure students in the military community are able to acclimate to an academic environment and complete their education. According to a university brochure, “the embracing atmosphere of the Texas A&M University-San Antonio Patriots’ Casa goes far beyond a ‘living room’ environment of traditional Veteran Affairs certification offices.”
Some of the features guests were able to see on their tours included gallery space showcasing memorabilia honoring military members, a family counseling suite, children’s play therapy rooms, private counseling rooms, and a recreation room with numerous TVs, gaming systems and furniture that can easily be arranged to fit any occasion. Computer work spaces, open labs, and ROTC offices and meeting space are also featured.
Confidential counseling will be offered for military community students and their families to help them overcome anxieties and stresses unique to military settings. These services will be offered at minimal or no cost.
Also on hand at the event were volunteers from the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry near Austin. They wore vintage military uniforms and brought numerous memorabilia dating back to World War I that guests were encouraged to hold and see up close. The reenactors also played a major role in the closing ceremony. They stood guard on the back terrace as Farias and a A&M-SA cadet laid a wreath at the base of the United States flag. A bugler played “Taps” to signify the end of the ceremony.