Story of Service: OSU student reflects on own career during Veterans Week
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
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Every November, one will walk by Oklahoma State University’s Library Lawn and hear the clanging and jingling of metal mementos resonating through the brisk autumn air.
For a week each year, personalized dog tags are attached to American flags placed in rows across Library Lawn to serve as a reminder to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In December 1906, the U.S. Military officially began issuing metal identification tags to service members. The purpose of these IDs was to make sure that fallen service members could be reunited with their families and remembered for their sacrifice.
Now, they serve as a representation of sacrifice and a reminder for students, faculty and guests across OSU’s Stillwater campus. This also allows OSU alumni who are active duty or veterans, like Tiffiany Peters, to take a moment to remember fallen comrades.
For two years and 10 months, Peters served in the U.S. Air Force as an Airman 1st Class in the 92nd Services Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington.
In 2007, when her detail to Afghanistan was canceled, Peters asked her chief master sergeant and first sergeant to let her go somewhere so she could make an impact. She received a temporary duty assignment at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware.
Peters was assigned to mortuary affairs at the port mortuary. She helped the FBI photograph and fingerprint fallen remains; send them for autopsy and embalming; and when they returned to her, she dressed them in their military uniforms or wrapped them in a U.S. stamped wool blanket before being sent to their final resting place.
Peters never planned on attending OSU, but when her family moved to Oklahoma for job opportunities, the Air Force veteran became an OSU student in the fall of 2021 and got involved in the Office of Student Veteran Success.
When Peters arrived in Stillwater she was proud to see how OSU honored service members on Library Lawn.
Peters felt a strong personal connection to the dog tags displayed on the lawn because she processed several of the remains honored on the lawn. She made time to help place the flags and dog tags on the display.
In the basement of the Student Union, Peters helped sort dog tags for the first time. Eventually, she picked one up, read the name and it stopped in her tracks.
“It was a name that I remembered,” Peters said.
Overrun with emotion, she reflected back to one of her most humbling experiences — her four months in mortuary affairs at Dover Air Force Base.
“You have to disconnect because you can't let every person that comes through the mortuary hit you or you'd never get your job done,” Peters said. “But there was one person that I followed from start to finish as he was processed through and he was the name that I saw on the dog tag, and it was a full-circle moment for me.
“It was like I was here at OSU for a reason.”
Seeing that name served as a reminder that every person on those tags had a story, a hometown and a family. It made Peters think about her own story.
Joining the military was in her blood. Both of her grandfathers served in the Navy and her father served in the Army. However, Peters was unsure if the military was something she wanted to do. As a sophomore in high school, she considered joining the Navy and even talked to a recruiter, but ultimately decided to continue her education at a small private college in Michigan.
“As student veterans, we don't connect the same way as a typical student does and
so we kind of feel out of place. You realize you aren't the same as the other students.
I mean, we're older, we have more life experience and we prioritize things differently
than a traditional student would.”
“As student veterans, we don't connect the same way as a typical student does and so we kind of feel out of place. You realize you aren't the same as the other students. I mean, we're older, we have more life experience and we prioritize things differently than a traditional student would.”
In the midst of her college studies, Peters began questioning her future and how she was going to support herself. Determined to do more with her life, she set out to find unique experiences and make an impact outside her hometown.
“I ended up joining the Air Force and it was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life to be quite honest,” Peters said.
Her first duty station was at Fairchild Air Force Base. During her time at the refueling wing, she worked in food service and met her husband, Tony.
“It was an amazing experience. I mean, not many people can say that they have watched a B-2 plane be refueled mid-flight from a KC-135. It's an experience like that, the person sitting next to me could never say they had,” Peters said.
When it came time, Peters left the Air Force to raise a family. Her and Tony had three children, Conner, Marshall and RoseLynne. Eventually, Peters decided she wanted to go back to college to finish her associate degree in digital design and eventually get a bachelor's degree as well. She made the choice to enroll at OSU.
Determined to graduate with a bachelor's degree, Peters began studying marketing at the Spears School of Business and became involved on campus by serving as vice president of the Military Veteran Family Society.
“As student veterans, we don't connect the same way as a typical student does and so we kind of feel out of place,” Peters said. “You realize you aren't the same as the other students. I mean, we're older, we have more life experience and we prioritize things differently than a traditional student would.”
The student organization has been revamped over the last year in an effort to be more inclusive. Members don’t have to be veterans or active military. They can be family of service members or just someone who supports the military.
Peters hopes the changes continue to help the organization grow and make an impact in the community.
“It was just four of us at the beginning and now I think we are sitting at 16. So we've quadrupled since the beginning of the semester, and we keep trying to do more things to get more people involved,” Peters said. “We're still trying to find our footing, and see how far our reach can go and what we can do as a group. But it's been really fun seeing the different ideas people are coming up with, and how they really do want to get engaged.”
The goal of the organization is to help facilitate a community where people have a safe space to talk about life and experience OSU in a relatable way. They can share memories from the glory days while also being at a place that prioritizes mental health.
“On average, 22 veterans a day turn to suicide because they don't have an outlet. They don't have a way to connect. They don't know the resources available to them, who they can talk to or they don’t want to burden others with their problems," Peters said. "None of us want to see our brothers and sisters in arms struggle, so building a community of support is what we are trying to create here at OSU."
The Military Veteran Family Society has held events such as tailgates for military families and supporters to connect. Peters wants student veterans to connect with one another and find camaraderie.
“Tiffiany has been a constant supporter of the Student Veteran Success Center since we met her last year,” said Vincent Rivera, Student Veteran Success coordinator. “Her enthusiasm, caring nature and all-around awesomeness have been pivotal factors in the resurgence of our center and the veterans club.”
The dog tags and flags serve as a reminder every year to honor the fallen, but Peters wants veterans to come together more than once every November; to really know each other as more than just a name on a uniform.
“We really want the student veteran community to know there is a space for them, even though they feel like the outcast, there is a space and that community is getting larger because we are connecting, opening up and branching out,” Peters said. “We are veterans, from near and far, trying to navigate this new path we are on, one day at a time, but it’s nice knowing we are not alone on the journey.”