A Reminder of Home
Guardsmen Celebrate College Ties With Banner

- by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue. Photos courtesy of Robert A. Miller, except as credited.

More than 6,000 miles from Pennsylvania College of Technology’s main campus, a group of students and alumni serving in the military’s Operation Enduring Freedom celebrated their Penn College connection.

This is a real story
of Penn College pride.

The seven National Guard soldiers, primarily from central Pennsylvania, were deployed to Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in Afghanistan, where they were stationed from February to November 2008.

While in Afghanistan, Spc. Robert A. Miller, a student enrolled in information technology: web and applications development concentration, read an article in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper about a dining facility at another base that had banners from various schools hanging from its ceiling.

Miller said, 'Not only did the guys sign the banner, but we also had some of our local interpreters write the school slogan, 'degrees that work,' in the local language of Pashtu.' Photo by Larry Kauffman.

“It seemed to me that it would be nice to have a reminder of home and a connection to the school at our base, since several of the people located there, and many more throughout the country, were current or previous Penn College students,” Miller said.

With the support of his company commander, Miller talked to his wife, Shawnalee, secretary for student support services at Penn College, about his idea, and she encouraged him to contact the college administration.

“It didn’t take long for the school to respond, and in a big way,” Miller said. “Dr. William Martin (senior vice president) and I began fairly regular communication.”

Martin arranged for the Admissions Office to send Miller a college banner at Mehtar Lam.

“When it arrived, we were all amazed at the sheer size of it,” he said. “It was nice to see such a large physical representation of the college’s support for its current and previous students while so far away from home.”

Banner Dedicated

Sen. Gene Yaw, Spc. Robert A. Miller and President Davie Jane Gilmour show the framed military coin presented by Miller. President Gilmour with banner signers, from left: Miller, Spc. Trevor A. Sheleman, Capt. Chris Mclaud, and Spc. Guston J. Bird, and Sen. Gene Yaw Miller, who initiated the banner project

Penn College hosted a reception for students, alumni, faculty and staff who have served in the military, an event highlighted by dedication of a college banner displayed at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in Afghanistan at the request of student Robert A. Miller during his service there. Miller and six other Penn College students and alumni signed the banner and returned it at the end of their tours of duty. The banner will hang in the Financial Aid Office, also the campus location for Veterans Affairs. Miller told the group that, when serving overseas, military personnel receive few reminders of home, and the banner served to symbolize support from their alma mater. To thank the college, he presented President Davie Jane Gilmour with a framed military coin. Gilmour announced that the fountain in front of the ATHS will be renamed Veterans Fountain to honor the military service of college students, alumni and employees. The event was attended by state Rep. Rick Mirabito, state Sen. Gene Yaw and Susan Mathias, regional director for U.S. Rep. Chris Carney. Yaw and Mathias offered remarks.

Miller then concentrated on finding as many alumni as possible. “I was surprised to discover that Capt. Jeffrey Tudor, the company commander for our headquarters element, was not only on board to support the project, but also a previous (Penn College) graduate himself,” Miller said. “Most everyone I talked to was excited to be involved in any way they could.”

Seven guardsmen – each serving a different specialty while in Afghanistan – signed the banner that was given back to Penn College after the group returned home in November. To further demonstrate their Penn College pride, Miller said, “Not only did the guys sign the banner, but we also had some of our local interpreters write the school slogan, ‘degrees that work,’ in the local language of Pashtu.”

The banner was shown off to campus employees by President Davie Jane Gilmour at a meeting in January to open the spring semester.

“I want to tell you about a student, a veteran who has been in touch and what came of his contact,” she told the audience. “This is not a statement for or against war, but a real story of Penn College pride, worth telling over and over again.”

The banner hangs in the Financial Aid Office and was dedicated during a public ceremony in April. ■

Those Who Signed

Staff Sgt. Edward T. Bendas Jr.,
attended ’96-’00, landscape/nursery technology
Staff Sgt. Edward T. Bendas Jr.

Landscaping was not part of Bendas’ regular duties as company supply sergeant, but he found he was one of few soldiers who knew how to run various pieces of machinery that are used in the landscaping field and frequently fielded questions regarding ideas for plants and design from the reconstruction team. “Horticulture is very important, especially in identifying plants and establishing greenhouses,” he said. “One greenhouse in particular is located immediately outside our Forward Operating Base.”

Spc. Robert A. Miller,
’06 computer information systems: programming and database processing concentration, and currently enrolled, information technology: web and applications development concentration
Spc. Robert A. Miller (right)

Miller was administrative specialist for the Maneuver Company of Task Force Pacesetter, which included many human resources and personnel accountability tasks. Miller said he specifically used skills he was taught at Penn College to automate many day-to-day tasks, producing a significantly more efficient and productive command post. “My knowledge and experience in the information technology field have been called upon on an almost daily basis to assist with troubleshooting and improving existing tasks, especially with regards to networking and technical customer support,” Miller said.

Sgt. Bryan N. Laubach,
’07, heavy construction equipment technology: operator emphasis
Sgt. Bryan N. Laubach

Laubach assisted in the planning and construction of a new mortar-pits area at Combat Outpost Najil and operated heavy equipment on FOB Mehtar Lam to support ongoing missions. “I have gone on missions specifically because I could operate heavy equipment,” Laubach said.

Spc. Guston J. Bird,
'07 information technology: network technology emphasis, and currently enrolled, information technology: network specialist concentration
Spc. Guston J. Bird

As information management officer, information assurance manager and system administrator for the battalion’s secret and nonsecret information systems, Bird frequently used his information-technology education as he maintained the base’s network.

Cpl. Michael A. Johnston,
currently enrolled, welding technology
Cpl. Michael A. Johnston (right)

Johnston supervised 12 heavy-equipment operators in various construction projects at FOB Mehtar Lam and managed a storage location for all construction materials. “I physically assisted with several of the major projects,” he said. “With my help, our unit completed numerous improvements to the base, which enhanced quality of life for the soldiers living there and provided additional force protection measures to help keep them safe.”

Capt. Jeffrey T. Tudor,
’96, welding and fabrication engineering technology
Capt. Jeffrey T. Tudor (left)

As part of overseeing daily life sustainment and security operations of the Forward Operating Base in Mehtar Lam, Tudor managed construction projects, including the design and fabrication of steel gates used to control the flow of vehicle traffic on and off the base. He’s also provided technical advice to local national contractors with the fabrication of rebar cages and the welding of structural steel members for the construction of buildings used by U.S. soldiers, airmen and civilians to work and live in.

Spc. Trevor A. Sheleman,
currently enrolled, building construction technology
Spc. Trevor A. Sheleman

Sheleman helped with many building projects for Combat Outpost Najil.