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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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VAST effort informs and assists

When Taylor Copeland, senior, approached Dr. Brett Holden in 2004 with ‘Operation Patriot Love,’ neither of them could have imagined they would develop a service learning project that would take the community by storm.

As a first year student in the Chapman Community at Kohl, a residential learning community, Copeland was invited to start an engagement project which would result in 20 hours of service per semester.

She developed this particular idea when a close friend was sent to Iraq after joining the Marines.

‘This project was a good way to learn about the Iraq war,’ Copeland said. ‘I did not fully understand the war and I wanted to support my friend.’

Since it began, the group has grown from eight to 20 members and changed its name to the Veteran Assessment and Service Team. What started as just card making and care package campaigns has now grown to educating the community, helping families, planning welcome home parties and adopting Bowling Green’s own 148th Bravo company.

Holden, a professor in the Chapman Community who specializes in the effects of the soldier experience in war, jumped on the opportunity to educate the group.

‘It is important to educate ourselves on the nature of war and the effects on the human mind and body of those serving,’ Holden said. ‘Even though we are not there, we are still more informed than the average civilian about what’s happening, especially in the Middle East.’

‘The cards and letters get sent overseas in large quantities. Soldiers like mail. It helps their morale,’ Holden said.

VAST attempts to adopt one family of the 148th per year adjusting to having a significant other sent to the war.

This year, the students spent 7-8 hours with a soldier’s family helping with household chores including taking down a dilapidated shed, rebuilding steps and painting several rooms in the house.

The group maintains long-term relationships with these families; when the soldier returns it is not uncommon for his or her family to come talk with the group about Iraq and struggles of life through deployment, Holden said.

Sgt. Aaron Zdawczyk is a part of the D Company Infantry in Bowling Green’s 148th company. VAST ‘adopted’ him this year and he has maintained contact with the group every week since being deployed over a year ago.

Now home, Zdawczyk attends many of VAST’s meetings and discusses the first-hand soldier experience.

‘It is hard on an individual to juggle civilian life, family life and military life,’ he said. ‘[VAST] helped me with readjustment and they have done a heck of a job maintaining positive morale, they are some of our main supporters.’

The group also works with non-profit organizations such as Sew Much Comfort and Caught in the Crossfire, both of which design adaptive clothing for soldiers and children in hospitals who have been injured in war zones.

VAST works hard to support soldiers while remaining non partisan, said VAST member and Chapman Community Leader, Adam Haines, sophomore.

‘When I’m sitting in BG getting my education and a man or woman is overseas fighting, they don’t know me but they are fighting for me. As a member of VAST, we are trying to broadcast this to the community,’ he said.

VAST now has an official logo, a mission statement and is also working to expand to high schools in Rossford and Bowling Green.

‘The power of service learning is taking book work in the classroom and putting it to use out of the classroom,’ Holden said.

This year, the group has expanded VAST into a subgroup known as VAST 2, an opportunity for upperclass students to take on a leadership role within the expansion to high schools.

The expansion will include planning fundraisers for the soldiers as well as developing a war course within the English Department. This course will educate students on the realities of war, outside what they might only understand from certain political views, Holden said.

‘It provides insights on how to use education to help shape positive change in the world,’ he said.

Copeland, who has recently become the main coordinator for VAST 2, believes as long as there are soldiers overseas, there will be a need for support whether the population supports the war as a whole.

‘What once was a group focused on card making campaigns and donation drives evolved into this massive operation, not only will this program continue, it will flourish and keep growing,’ Copeland said.

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