Winston Churchill once said:” Never give up. Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!'”
That is the message keynote speaker Lt. Colonel Justin Constantine, United States Marine Corp (ret.), had for the more than 100 veterans and supporters who attended the first Annual Veterans Day Celebration Breakfast Nov. 9 at FIU.
Constantine, a purple heart recipient, volunteered for deployment to Iraq in 2006, and served as a Civil Affairs Team Leader while attached to an infantry battalion. While on a routine combat patrol, Justin was shot in the head by a sniper. The bullet came in through the back of his ear and came out through his mouth.
They thought he was dead.
But that didn’t stop 25-year-old Corpsman George Grant from springing into action and performing his first ever tracheotomy on a human, saving Constantine’s life. Since then Constantine’s road to recovery has been a long one. But he was not deterred.
Today, Constantine suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, can’t see out of his left eye, is missing teeth, and he can’t run because the doctors had to remove bones from his legs to reconstruct his face.
Yet, he considers himself the luckiest person in every room. That moment that changed his life forever brought him closer to his wife. It gave him the opportunity to travel and speak to millions of Veterans about his experience.
Resilience, teamwork and humor, that is what Constantine tells all those who go through difficulty in their life and is the reason why he survived.
“I now know that I am stronger than I ever was before and can put everyday problems into perspective so I can really enjoy life,” Constantine said.
The breakfast held in honor of Veterans Day was aimed at recognizing the more than 52,000 veterans in the South Florida community, and the more than a thousand veterans who currently attend FIU.
“Freedom is not free, but upheld by everyday citizens who understand the urgency and importance of defending it,” President Mark B. Rosenberg said. “We’re here to tell our veterans that their bravery doesn’t go unnoticed.”
FIU has had a longstanding tradition of recognizing veterans during commencement and has been working to engage the veteran community through the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs.
The first in the state to offer instate tuition to veterans regardless of their state of origin, FIU has developed programs aimed at teaching veterans life skills such as bee keeping and farming and has implemented programs to make veterans transition into society smoother like the program at Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences, who in partnership with the Miami VA Healthcare System (MVAHS), has received more than $8 million in federal funding to implement the Veterans Affairs Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP). The program aims to promote recruitment and retention of VA nurses, increase enrollment in the undergraduate nursing program, and develop inter-professional education and promote skills specific to military health concerns.
Most recently, Citi Salutes, a Citigroup initiative that engages in national and local partnerships to benefit veterans and active military has teamed up with FIU to create the FIU Student Veterans Career and Talent Development Program.
The program will build on FIU’s efforts to educate faculty on the best teaching practices to support and enhance our student veterans’ learning experience; help veterans understand their options by translating their skills and expertise to different career paths; and continue to share the special qualities and characteristics of our veterans with local employers – to demonstrate how veterans can be valuable employees.
“As part of FIU’s engaged mission, we aim to broaden meaningful linkages between our university and the broader region on the behalf of the veterans who have given so much to our community and nation,” said Saif Y. Ishoof, vice president at the Office of Engagement who hosted the event.