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For Tufts Service Members, Veterans Day Means Commemoration and Commitment

Tufts students from the U.S. armed services share what the holiday means to them and how they observe it

This fall, Tufts Now invited several current and retired military personnel among the student community to share their perspectives on the meaning of Veterans Day. Their responses included the opportunity to reflect on family traditions or to acknowledge the experience of loss and sacrifice.

One throughline: Veterans Day represents for these Tufts students an opportunity to consider their own commitments to serve and to show gratitude for those alongside whom they have served.

Miki Calderon
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force
Tufts University School of Medicine

My husband has completed his military obligation, but he served for seven years as an active-duty Army officer. During that time, I was a military spouse, and that was my first experience of military life—I’d had no connection to it beforehand.

Air Force Lieutenant Miki Calderon, M24, and her husband Randy pose for a portrait

Funnily enough, when my husband retired, I chose to join. I’m currently an Air Force officer, enrolled in the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. The Air Force is funding my education through medical school, and my plan is to serve after I finish my training.

As a spouse, I saw the camaraderie among service members and their families. I was welcomed into this incredibly close-knit community, unlike any I had experienced before. I met so many amazing service members and other spouses. It’s a big part of what inspired me to join.

To me, Veterans Day is a tribute. My tribute, I hope, will be to serve as a physician. I don’t know yet what my specialty will be, but there are many research studies on veterans and their health outcomes throughout the course of their lives. I want to pay tribute to service members by taking care of them however I can. I’m hoping that the education that I’m getting at Tufts and that I’ll be receiving in the future through my residency training will allow me to change the course of some of their lives.

Iris (Risa) Sobchak
Lieutenant Colonel (retired), U.S. Army
The Fletcher School

There’s this idea in the United States that Memorial Day is the somber appreciation for those who have given their lives for this country, and Veterans Day is more of a celebration.

Iris (Risa) Sobchak, Lieutenant Colonel (retired), U.S. Army

But, as a historian, I’m probably a little more somber about Veterans Day—I still think about how it is connected to Armistice Day and the horrors of World War I. That said, I really appreciate it when people acknowledge my service.

I come from a long line of people who have served, going back several generations, so the idea of joining the military was familiar to me. I even have a fourth-great grandmother who was a spy in the American Revolution. Early on in my career in the military, when I graduated from Airborne School, I used my grandfather’s wings; he had served in the 82nd Airborne. That meant a lot to me.

I served for 22 years before I retired. I’ve also worked in corporate roles and in academia, and I have to say that there’s really nothing more fulfilling than serving. Sometimes when people say to me, “Thank you for your service,” they say it a little apologetically, almost as if they feel guilty. But I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I was paid a good salary to serve my country and do all kinds of things I wouldn’t have done otherwise, like rappel out of helicopters, jump out of planes, pack parachutes, and go to the four corners of the world. I want everyone to know that it was a special opportunity and I’m very honored to have represented them. I hope I did it in the best way I could.

Mathias Scully
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Tufts University School of Medicine

I’m a first-generation American. My mom’s from Ethiopia; my dad’s from Ireland. I joined the Army out of high school, very spontaneously. I think it was a big shock for them—I can only imagine what they were thinking!

Mathias Scully, M25, poses for a photo

But it’s interesting having immigrant parents and being in the Army. It feels right, like it’s a good way to give back to the community that took my parents in, gave them opportunities to thrive, and gave our family so much.

I don’t have a deep or meaningful reason for joining the Army—I wanted to try something different, and I just took a leap. But I am very clear on my reason for staying: it’s because of the friendships I’ve made over the past eight years. I like the people I’ve served with, both close friends and others. There’s real camaraderie and a tight bond, and it’s the people who have made it a meaningful and rewarding experience for me.

As for Veterans Day, I see it as a day for us to come together as a community and as a nation and give a small token of appreciation to the veterans who have served, to remind them that we’re thankful for what they’ve done for us. They should know their deeds have not gone unnoticed.

James Patti
Ensign, U.S. Navy
Tufts University School of Medicine

Several people in my family have served our country in different capacities. Thankfully, none of my close family members were killed or injured in action, but I know that is not the case for many other service members, veterans, and their families.

James Patti, M25 and military veteran

To me, Veterans Day has always meant an acknowledgement of the depth of dedication behind the years of service that veterans put in and a solemn remembrance of the personal cost of their commitment.

I’m currently in medical school as part of the Health Professions Scholarship Program, a path through which the Navy pays for my medical education. Once I graduate medical school and complete my residency, I will serve the military as a practicing physician to repay my debt.

I decided to pursue this path in part because I was familiar with the idea; my father and uncle both went to med school through this same program, so I grew up around it, and it seemed like a natural option for me. As I got older, I also began to understand the financial upside of making that choice, and I had a better appreciation for why it had worked so well for my father and uncle. Ultimately, though, what really inspired me to join the program was hearing and seeing the way my own family members had been able to serve their country through medicine.

As I have learned more over time about the scholarship program, I know, too, that it opens up interesting opportunities to practice medicine outside of the United States. I hope to take advantage of such opportunities one day. I’m not sure exactly where the journey will go, but I know that I will always find meaning in using my craft to give back and honor the commitment of our service members.

Michael Sparks
Former Captain, U.S. Marine Corps
The Fletcher School

I can’t explain the inspiration behind my decision to serve; it was just something I always wanted to do.

Mike Sparks, doctoral candidate in International Relations and military veteran, poses for a portrait

I gravitated toward the Marine Corps because they had a reputation for adventure and for being tough, and their standards met the challenges that I was seeking when I was younger. But there is definitely an aura around them, and a sense of community that I wanted to be a part of.

I served as an infantry officer for five years and left the service in 2018. My experience in the Marine Corps absolutely influenced my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in international relations. When serving, I spent a lot of time overseas working with partner nations and allies, and I think my experiences on the ground allowed me to see the impact that policy could have at the tactical level. I wanted to understand that better, especially when it comes to security issues. 

For me, Veterans Day is a time to remember the people I served with and reflect on all that I learned from them. It’s a time to reconnect: I like to pick up the phone and get updated on what the people I served with are doing with their lives now. Everyone goes on to do pretty incredible things; they continue to serve in various ways outside of uniform, and that’s inspiring to me.

Kristen Arango
Major, U.S. Army
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

In residency at veterinary school, I’m no longer co-located with a unit as I was when I was on active duty. But in years past, my unit would try to do things together to observe Veterans Day. For example, we’d perform unit runs or morning exercises (our “PT”) together in honor of all those who have served.

U.S. Army Major Kristin Arango, Resident in Small Animal Surgery, poses for a photo

This year, I’ll probably just be celebrating in my thoughts, but I do hope to find a way to reach out locally. For me, that’s what Veterans Day is: a time to reflect on and appreciate all those who have served and made sacrifices.

My own path to the Army started with a love of animals: my father is a canine police officer, and I grew up with three different police dogs in our house. When I got into veterinary school and I found out that the Army has a Veterinary Corps, I applied to the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. I was motivated by a couple of different things: Both my grandfathers and two of my uncles served in the military, and my father and brother, as a police officer and a firefighter respectively, are in community service.

So there are role models in my family for making that kind of commitment. And then there’s my love for working dogs—they make a commitment of their own, and they don’t really have a choice. So this is my way of giving back to them—serving the animals that do so much for our military by taking care of them.

Kaili Brianne Markley
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Tufts University School of Dental Medicine

My dad was in the Army, so I grew up celebrating Veterans Day on the base. We would take walks and talk through our family history—there’s a long tradition of serving in the Army in my family.

Kaili Markley, D25, poses for a photo

We saw it as a memorial holiday, meant to commemorate those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

It was my family legacy that inspired me to join, for sure; I knew even when I was still in high school that I wanted to do so. At the time, my dad wasn’t super-excited about the plan. He worried that the Army is sometimes too hard on women and suggested I join the Air Force instead, but, of course, I wanted to do what he did. In the end, he guided me through a lot of training.

The experience has been everything I wanted it to be and more. I’m incredibly lucky now to be enrolled in dental school through the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. I’ll be a captain dentist when I graduate. Because of my field, I probably won’t be in harm’s way, so my service will be giving back to my fellow soldiers as their dentist, taking care of them in that way. To me, that’s very meaningful. I can’t wait!

Carlos Velez
Major, U.S. Army
The Fletcher School

Going back generations, all of my male relatives have served in the military in Colombia, where my family is from. I was born in the United States, and I felt it was important to carry on the tradition; I also felt I owed it to this country.

Portrait of Carlos Velez, Major, U.S. Army

There was one more thing that motivated me: even though I have a lot of respect for my family, I never felt fully a part of the family. I was looking for a family, for a sense of brotherhood. And serving in the Army has given me that; I am surrounded by people I know I can rely on if I need anything at all in the world, and they know they can rely on me.

Veterans Day is about appreciating the commitment that members of the armed services make when we sign on the dotted line. It’s also about awareness–we all should be aware of the sacrifices made by those in the military, sacrifices that help ensure that we get to live our lives with a lot of freedoms. My family history has taught me that you have to fight for those freedoms.

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