While the newest U.S. military branch is not quite two years old, Washington State University already is preparing to help celebrate the educational accomplishments of its veterans.
The U.S. Space Force will be recognized alongside the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard in the next batch of WSU’s military challenge coins, which student veterans receive from the university upon graduation. The popular coin’s design was modified earlier this year to add a reference to Space Force and the WSU Office of Veterans Affairs has ordered an updated batch of coins that is expected to be minted soon.
“We’re excited,” said WSU Veterans Coordinator and retired U.S. Army vet Penny Martinez. “We figure we’re still probably at least one to two years from having our first Space Force guardians reaching graduation but we want to be ready.”
The university already has at least two active duty members of the Space Force enrolled in online graduate programs.
Challenge coins are a military tradition dating back to at least World War I, though their history is largely anecdotal.
Several of the most commonly told stories involve a wealthy officer who led volunteer American pilots in Europe prior to official U.S. entry into the war and handed out custom-designed coins to his troops to help build unity and morale. Later, one of the unit’s pilots was shot down behind enemy lines, escaped capture, and used the coin to convince suspicious French troops he was an ally rather than a saboteur. Ever since, they’ve served as a symbol of membership and accomplishment.
The WSU challenge coin was first minted in 2016 as a way to help show student veterans the university values their contributions and is proud to be part of their future.
The commemorative coin became so popular that the Office of Veterans Affairs had to quickly order new batches minted as generations of WSU alumni who had served in the U.S. military contacted the university asking if they were still eligible.
One side of the crimson-, gray- and gold-colored coins is the official WSU seal, which requires presidential approval to use, and is encircled by the names of each U.S. military branch. The other side features the logo of the WSU Office of Veterans Affairs.
Space Force was created in December 2019 as the first new U.S. military branch in more than 70 years. It is organized under the Department of the Air Force in much the same way as how the Marine Corps is organized under the Department of the Navy.
Support for student vets is strong at WSU.
The university has a longstanding Office of Veterans Affairs, which employs staff across the WSU system. Physical spaces for veterans to seek help, ask questions or simply to study or hang out with friends exist on every campus. WSU Global has been a resource for active duty service members deployed across the globe since its launch in 1992.
After establishing its Student Veterans Center in 2014, WSU was recognized for its efforts by the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs. WSU has also been recognized as a Military Friendly school by VIQTORY, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that evaluates schools and employers on their efforts to create opportunities for veterans.
Events are scheduled at each WSU campus to honor veterans.
- Pullman: Student veterans will gather at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Veterans Memorial for the ceremonial laying of the wreath. It will be followed by a reception at the WSU Veterans Center.
- Vancouver: A barbecue lunch is planned for veterans Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the campus Veterans Center. It also will serve as an opportunity to promote a campus project designed to eliminate barriers to receiving VA-related help and focuses primarily on the mental health and health care needs of student veterans making the transition from military to college life.
- Tri-Cities: The WSU Tri-Cities Patriot’s Club and Veterans Center have lined campus pathways this week with U.S. flags in recognition of the service from student veterans.
- Spokane: A Veterans Breakfast is scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Student Diversity Center on campus.
- Everett: A brunch for student veterans is scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the campus Veterans Center. Student vets also are invited to sign a framing mat that will surround a photo of the Everett campus that will be hung in the Veterans Center.