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Two UC Clermont College students were recognized with the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious Moore Award for women military veterans during UC’s Sisters in Arms event on campus March 26.
Elena Gettys, U.S. Navy veteran and biological sciences major, and Maria Hopkins, U.S. Army veteran who will begin UC Clermont’s Physical Therapy Assistant program in fall 2019, were among five female veterans and UC students honored at the annual event, organized by UC’s Division of Student Affairs and Veterans Programs and Services.
Hopkins, who already has a degree in exercise science and works as a personal trainer, served in the army for eight years before leaving in 2016. More than a year of her service was spent in remote parts of Iraq as a military police heavy gunner, operating machine guns as one of the few female soldiers in her unit to leave base on foot-patrol missions. Her gender made Hopkins a valuable asset, since local women would often only speak with another woman; Hopkins communicated with them through an interpreter.
“The guys I served with were great, but I had to prove myself,” Hopkins said. “It was baptism by fire.”
Her multi-purpose helped establish Iraqi military and often delivered humanitarian aid residents. In one Kurdish village, Hopkins’s unit removed IEDs from a children’s soccer field before sharing supplies and medical care.
“People were thankful and grateful; the kids were hugging us,” Hopkins said. “I saw the human side of an often inhumane environment.”
But by 2012, Hopkins began struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As her symptoms peaked in 2015, Veterans’ Affairs’ doctors put her on a prescription-drug cocktail. Unsatisfied with her progress, Hopkins researched non-medicine alternatives and reached out to local veterans’ groups to find others suffering with the same issues. She eventually weaned off her medications, improved, and felt ready to tackle going back to school — and helping others.
“Veterans need help beyond medicine, and I saw the Moore award as another way of reaching out and talking about these issues,” said Hopkins, adding that while increased understanding of mental health in U.S. society helps, military veterans face challenges specific to their combat experiences and the difficulties of returning to civilian life. “I hope to eventually use my physical therapy degree to work with veterans. Just because we are no longer in the military, we are no less the warriors we once were.”
“UC Clermont is proud of all of our student veterans and the sacrifices they have made to keep our nation safe,” said Jennifer Radt, senior director of student affairs for the college. “The Moore Award provides a special opportunity to recognize female student veterans who have answered the call with exemplary contributions to service, academics and their communities.”
UC Clermont will host a Veterans’ Social for military vets to learn more about opportunities to utilize VA educational benefits at the college on May 7, 5:30-7 p.m., at Jungle Jim’s, 4450 Eastgate South Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45245. To RSVP, visit https://admissions.catalyst.uc.edu/register/veterans. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-732-5319, or visit ucclermont.edu/veterans for more information.