November 11, 2023 : By Bryson Gordon - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
In continuing with a time-honored tradition, Liberty University is holding Military Appreciation Month throughout November with a series of events and recognitions celebrating veterans and active military service members, including many among its own ranks, from online and residential students and faculty and staff to alumni and friends of the university who have been called to serve their country.
What was once a one-week celebration on Liberty’s campus has now turned into a monthlong event, with activities ranging from fitness challenges, military appreciation athletics events, a memorial race, a special Convocation, and a Veterans Appreciation Reception.
“We at Liberty University are so incredibly proud of the many service members, veterans, and military families who are part of our Liberty community,” said Emily Foutz, director of Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs. “It is an honor to carry on this university tradition each November to recognize their service and sacrifice during Military Appreciation Month. These men and women are a vital part of our Liberty family.”
Last academic year, Liberty University had the privilege of supporting more than 40,000 military-affiliated students, including active service members, veterans and military/veteran spouses.
Already in November, the office has celebrated veterans with a Military Appreciation women’s volleyball game on Nov. 3, where they swept Louisiana Tech 3-0 inside Liberty Arena. The following day, during Homecoming Weekend, Liberty hosted its first-ever Murph Challenge on campus, which raised over $39,000 for the National Center for Healthy Veterans at Valor Farms, a local Christian organization in Altavista that offers housing, wellness workshops, faith-based counseling, and other programs to veterans. Liberty President Dondi Costin, a retired major general who served as Chief of Chaplains for the U.S. Air Force, spoke at the student-run event, remarking on the great way the event honors both past and present military service members.
The events resumed on campus Thursday evening with the beginning of a 24-hour vigil held by Liberty’s Air Force ROTC in remembrance of the more than 80,000 Americans who remain missing from conflicts since World War II. Dozens of ROTC members, students, faculty, and staff attended the ceremony near Liberty Lake as Dr. Steve Keith, director for Liberty’s Center for Chaplaincy, delivered the keynote address and students held a moment of silence and prayed over the thousands of soldiers who have gone missing in combat.
Friday’s Convocation included a special recognition for veterans and service members. President Costin acknowledged about 50 service members, veterans, and their families who filled the President’s Box in the Vines Center as special guests, with many more in attendance at Convocation. He then asked for a moment of silence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country by laying down their life.
“Jesus Himself said that greater love has no man than this, but that he lay down his life for his friends,” Costin said. “And while it’s true that only one person could have given His life for the sins of mankind, that person being Jesus, there are plenty of others who have raised their right hands and have been willing to do so for us and for our freedom. Not for our sins, but for our freedom. And so we honor all of our veterans, all you dependents of military members today, and we thank you for your service, and we know that we rest today under the umbrella of protection that you provide.”
Keith then led students in prayer over Liberty’s military community, which was followed by the Presentation of the Colours by Liberty’s Army ROTC along with the national anthem, performed by Dr. Wayne Kompelien, professor of music and voice for the School of Music.
The speaker for Friday’s Convocation was Rosaria Butterfield, an author and professor who tabbed herself as an “unlikely convert” to Christianity in her autobiography. Butterfield, once an openly lesbian activist, got saved in 1999 and has since developed a ministry aimed at college students and now travels the country to proclaim the Gospel.
Liberty University’s Chaplains Museum also joined in on the Friday festivities, hosting an open house, where visitors had the opportunity to get to know several Liberty chaplains during their “Meet the Chaplains” event.
On Friday night, Liberty hosted a Military Appreciation men’s hockey game against Ohio University at the LaHaye Ice Center, where veterans in attendance were recognized. The Flames took the match over the Bobcats by the score of 2-1.
Saturday’s festivities began in the morning with the 15th Annual Valley View Maj. Mike Donahue 5-miler, a race created to honor and remember Major Mike Donahue, who made a positive impact in the community and at Liberty University. In 2015, Donahue, a Liberty alumnus and former professor, was honored posthumously with Liberty’s annual George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award for his decorated career with the U.S. Army, in which he made the ultimate sacrifice as a soldier in laying down his life for his country when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a vehicle laced with explosives into a foreign military convoy on the base in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 16, 2014.
This year’s George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award winner, David Stokes, was recognized during a spectacular halftime show at Saturday’s Military Appreciation football game. Stokes, a Lynchburg-area Vietnam veteran, was presented the award for his service in the U.S. Army as well as his continued service in assisting area veterans. The halftime show included many Liberty traditions, including a special performance by the Spirit of the Mountain marching band, fireworks, and the annual reenactment of the iconic moment when the U.S. flag was raised on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima Memorial, serving as a tribute to those who have lost their lives in sacrifice to our nation.
The first 3,000 fans received a free camouflage hat, and Liberty Football recognized all members of the U.S. military throughout the game against Old Dominion. The Flames continued their undefeated start to the season, defeating the Monarchs 38-10 in front of a crowd of 21,481 at Williams Stadium.
The celebrations will continue this coming week. On Wednesday, the Military Affairs office will host its annual Veterans Appreciation Reception, where all Liberty University students, faculty, and staff who are currently serving or who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces are welcomed to partake in food and fellowship with other members of the Liberty veteran community. Doors open for the reception at 11:30 a.m. with the event running from noon to 1 p.m. Guests for the reception are required to RSVP in advance.
The final event of Military Appreciation Month is scheduled for Nov. 29, as Liberty will celebrate its military students who will be graduating at the Fort Liberty Education Services Graduation Ceremony at 1 p.m.
Liberty has ranked as a military-friendly and Best for Vets university. The Veterans Center located in the Montview Student Union provides resources and support for service members, veterans, and their families.
In 2017, Liberty was designated as a Purple Heart University, making it the first college or university in Virginia to receive the honor from the Military Order of the Purple Heart in recognition of a university’s support for service members and their dependents.
Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs offers a variety of educational resources, support, and special events for military students and their families. To learn more, visit Liberty.edu/Military.