A Veterans Day Message: ‘Take Responsibility’

Air Force veteran Brian Wade

Brian Wade remembers his first class on campus with a hearty laugh and a look of deep satisfaction.

Air Force veteran Brian Wade
Air Force veteran Brian Wade

Wade had retired from the U.S. Air Force after 21 years of service in July 2013. In January 2014, he walked into his German history class as a 40-year-old. Even the adjunct professor was younger. His initial thought: “What am I doing here?”

As it turns out, Wade not only survived but thrived. Now in his final semester, he will graduate with a degree in business management. On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Wade will serve as keynote speaker at Stetson’s Veterans Day Observance and Recognition Ceremony, from 10 to 11 a.m., at the flagpole site in front of the Carlton Union Building. The event is sponsored by the university’s Student Veterans Organization. Wade was last year’s president.

Another mission accomplished.

Wade grew up “all over” as a self-described military brat. After he graduated from high school in Alabama in 1991, his family moved again to Arizona, and he opted to enlist in the Air Force. There, he received technical and advanced training and became part of the service’s security police, initially working around nuclear weapons. In the early years, time was spent in places like King Salmon, Alaska, working to ensure that “Russians didn’t cross the Bering Strait to snoop.”

Those assignments were a prelude to deployment overseas, more than a dozen of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. During 2006-07, he spent 13 months embedded with an Iraqi Army battalion as an advisor. His official retirement date in 2013 rolls off his tongue like his cellphone number: July 31.

Vietnam Remembrance Site on campus
Stetson University dedicated the Vietnam Remembrance Site on campus in November 2015.

Then came Stetson. His wife grew up in St. Petersburg, not far from the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. She made the suggestion, and with government military money in hand (from the GI Montgomery Bill), he went online to indicate interest in Stetson. He had doubts; it took an hour for them to be wiped away when he received a call from Admissions. His words: “I never ever would have expected for Stetson to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you.’ And they did.”

More surprise came in those beginning days on campus – “Stetson for an adult learner was a little bit of a shock,” he says. Also, he had to become accustomed to being a “grown man without a job for the first time in my life.” Steadily, though, the experience paid off.

Granite marker remembering Vietnam
A granite marker in Stetson’s Vietnam Remembrance Site was dedicated in 2015.

During any particular semester, Stetson has roughly 20 to 25 student veterans, and naturally they tend to stand out. Wade says he sometimes was mistaken for faculty or staff, given his age and that he often wears a Stetson ball cap, “his uniform.” Yet, comfortably he has related with classmates. “They want to know what I’m doing in college. I joke that it took me 21 years to earn my scholarship,” he says, adding, “I’ve never felt that I wasn’t accepted.”

In addition, as he became more involved in campus activities, Wade found his new self. Actually, it was more like his old self. Wade returned to his service roots, becoming the Student Veterans Organization’s third president. SVO was established in 2012. “I couldn’t stop just because my name went from Master Sgt. Wade to Brian Wade,” he explains. “You don’t turn off that veteran piece of you like a water faucet, at least for me. … It’s part of who I am. For me, it’s a bigger responsibility.”

On this Veterans Day, Wade has several messages, such as saluting the veterans who came before him. Among his other chief messages is one that all students can share: Take responsibility.

“The strength of America lies in the communities that you build,” Wade says. “You take care of each other; you look out for each other. To me, that is the strength of America.”

-Michael Candelaria