VFAI Connects with Student Veterans at SVA NatCon 2019

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VFAI leaders Emma Stokien and Eric Altamura talk with an attendee at Student Veterans of America's National Conference, January 3-6, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.


By Eric Altamura

“So, what exactly are American ideals?” More often than not, that was the first question newcomers asked when approaching our table at the Student Veterans of America National Convention last weekend. Their curiosity was understandable, we were one of the few organizations not specifically focused on advocacy for veterans. Instead, I explained, we use our platform as veterans to advocate on behalf of our wartime allies and refugees, consistent with the values instilled in us through our military service.

This year’s SVA NatCon included over 2,300 student veterans and campus representatives from across the country. Over three days in Orlando, I had the pleasure of representing Vets for American Ideals alongside fellow VFAI leaders Chris Purdy and Emma Stokien. Together, we participated in workshops, heard from speakers, and spread our message that service doesn’t stop just because we’ve taken off the uniform.

Most importantly, NatCon provided a way for us to connect with a geographically and demographically diverse group of student veterans willing to support the notion that the United States is at its best when its policies reflect the values upon which it was founded. We were fortunate to meet plenty of new faces, including former military linguists, family members of current SIV applicants, and campus leaders already involved in refugee resettlement programs in their local communities. Many of them shared compelling personal stories highlighting the importance of continued service as engaged citizens. We look forward to welcoming them to the VFAI community.

During the convention’s closing banquet, we heard from Representative Mark Takano of California, who was recently appointed chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs. During his speech, Takano shared the story of his great-uncle, a Japanese-American soldier who gave his life for our country during WWII while members of his family were being held in internment camps. The soldier paid the ultimate sacrifice, not necessarily for the America of the time, but for what it could be. In that spirit, the congressman challenged each one of us to remain active participants in protecting American ideals and crafting our nation’s future.

Surrounded by such an impressive group of students and speakers, I was immensely humbled to have such a powerful support network to amplify my voice, simply based on my status as a veteran. I recognize that this has not always been the case, that it took many generations and hard work to get to where we are today. With the utmost gratitude and respect for our predecessors, I now look forward to doing my part ensuring that America stays true to the ideals that we all swore to uphold and defend.

Eric Sen-Lu Altamura is a VFAI leader and US Army veteran. He is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Eleanor.



Above: VFAI leaders built camraderie and new connections at SVA NatCon - from left to right Andrea Goldstein, Gretchen Klingler, Emma Stokien, Chris Purdy, and Eric Altamura