‘Ask them their story.’ MCC celebrates veterans, including Helms scholarship winner

Jazz vocalist (and MCC instructor) Millie Nottingham, left, sang the national anthem as the Missouri Highway Patrol Troop H Honor Guard from St. Joseph presented the colors at the 2019 Chancellor’s Veterans Day Celebration. (Photos by Andrew Ryan and Tim Engle/MCC)

What can any one of us do to help military veterans? Ken Cheadle, keynote speaker at the Metropolitan Community College Chancellor’s Veterans Day Celebration, has a list of ideas.

Like: Pick up the tab for coffee or a meal. Drive a vet to a doctor’s appointment (bonus: the conversation there and back). Volunteer at a veterans hospital. Write a letter or send a care package. Volunteer as a tutor or mentor.

Jeff Ullmann, emcee of the Nov. 12 event at MCC-Penn Valley, had one more suggestion. It’s common for strangers to thank veterans for their service. But “to go one step further, you can ask them their story,” said Ullmann, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and MCC’s chief facilities officer. Every veteran has one.

Chancellor Kimberly Beatty

The program included the presentation of a Reggie Helms Memorial Scholarship to an MCC student veteran. The scholarship honors MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty’s late father, who served in Vietnam, and Dr. Beatty appeared emotional as she talked about him, the scholarship and the event.

“It warms my heart to present the Reggie Helms Memorial Scholarship to a deserving student veteran today,” Dr. Beatty said.

This year’s recipient of a $2,500 scholarship was Justin Long, who in addition to being a full-time student (attending MCC-Penn Valley) also works full time as a prison correctional officer. Long, who is married with three children, served in the U.S. Navy from 2005-09, including deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Baghdad and Cuba. He plans to become a registered nurse and will start work on an MCC nursing degree in January.

MCC student veteran Justin Long (third from left) is presented with the Reggie Helms Memorial Scholarship by Chancellor Kimberly Beatty (from left) and MCC Foundation board members Bret Bonge and Darin Shank.

Keynote speaker Cheadle is a U.S. Army veteran (and former MCC student) who started his own digital health care solutions firm, KC Newman Solutions. He is also an author (“Millennial Takeover”), speaker and host of “The Adverse Effect” podcast, sharing stories of everyday adversities and perseverance.

He grew up “in a challenging neighborhood” in Kansas City, although he didn’t know his family was poor until other kids told him so. When Cheadle was 16 his stepfather passed away, but the family didn’t have enough money to bury him. So Cheadle stole DVD players from the Walmart he worked at to come up with the cash.

U.S. Army veteran Ken Cheadle urged the audience to do what they can to help America’s veterans including, when possible, hiring them.

He’d get in trouble with the law a couple more times after that. He said a judge informed him he had two options: join the military or go to prison. “Your honor, I have a plan,” he replied. The next day, Cheadle was sitting across from “Sgt. Jackson,” a military recruiter at his school.

A jazz ensemble played as guests enjoyed heavy appetizers and dessert.

He would soon find himself on a “cattle bus” to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, then greeted by “hot steam” on the right side of his face from a mean drill sergeant right out of the movies. He quickly learned that when the drill sergeant requested some “real estate,” he’d be on the ground doing push-ups.

He was homesick, but his fake illnesses didn’t get him returned home. But now, all these years later, Cheadle realizes the military helped him “transition to manhood.”

There are 18.2 million veterans in the U.S., Cheadle told the MCC audience, and of those 326,000 are unemployed and 36,000 are homeless. Cheadle urged his listeners to hire veterans and shared some good reasons why, including vets’ ability to work as a team, their strong work ethic, self-confidence, discipline, flexibility and ability to be cool under fire.

Serving in the Army National Guard, Cheadle was sent to New Orleans to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. He also trained allies in Korea and Japan on unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones.

The Chancellor’s Veterans Day Celebration was planned by MCC’s Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion.

Janice Sieminski (left) and Rochelle Owens were on cake-cutting duty.