November 11, 2018 | Hannah Ebeling

A headshot of a student in a coat looking up to the sky with campus greenery/buildings behind him.
Calvin senior Ryan Heckaman served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly a decade.

“Veterans provide an example of service, sacrifice, and commitment that is a healthy model for all of us who desire to be faithfully committed—to family, to our faith, and to the places we live and work,” said John Witte, dean of students at Calvin.

Honoring nine years of service

Ryan Heckaman, a senior, served in the Air Force for more than nine years prior to attending Calvin. “After I graduated high school, I knew I did not want to go to college right away, but I wanted to be independent,” he said. Heckaman took the summer before he graduated to think things out. During that time he attended a college fair where he spoke to a military recruiter—initially sparking his interest.

“My uncle had been in the Air Force about 15 years at that point, so when I talked to my parents about joining the military, my mom told me I needed to call and talk to my uncle. He and I ended up having quite a lengthy conversation where he encouraged me to talk to an Air Force recruiter. So I did.” Heckaman said he liked what the Air Force offered, and being able to go back to college eventually was a big selling point for him.

Serving far from home

Heckaman served the U.S. Air Force for a total of nine and a half years, all over the world—Germany, Turkey, Japan, and Virginia. “I was blessed with a lot of assignments where I got to travel, but it’s very hard being stationed away,” he said. “Your first Christmas away, your first Thanksgiving, the first time a family member passes away and you can’t make it back is hard. You miss weddings and graduations, and every time you come back your parents look a little more gray. Those were probably some of the hardest things for me.”

Heckaman’s job while serving was working as a logistics technician, a very broad job field, dealing with shipping, receiving, ordering, packing, and storing any kind of logistical thing. In addition, he said one of his main focuses was making sure aircrafts were ready to fly. “Anything and everything came through our warehouses,” he said. “It’s a huge career field— one that let me work with all four branches.”

Continuing service as a civilian

Ultimately, Heckaman said his work as a logistic technician did not play into his decision of what to study in college. “I enjoyed it while I was there, but I knew it was something I didn’t want to do the rest of my life,” he said. He is now in his last year studying secondary education and social studies. He will be completing his student teaching this upcoming spring.

“Education is always something that interested me, even in high school,” he said. “Initially I had planned on becoming a pastor; that is what led me to apply to Calvin. I am a reformed Christian, so the theology of the school played a big part in my decision to come here.” However, Heckaman said he came to Calvin with a very open mind, and if God ever told him to do something different, he would. “Eventually I got to a point where that path no longer felt right, so I decided to pursue education,” he explained. “And in a way, pastoring and teaching are very similar career fields—you are still teaching, trying to reach people and helping individuals learn and understand something.”

Heckaman currently leads a commuter Bible study on campus.

Supporting veterans at Calvin

Calvin works to provide assistance and service to those who have served our country. “While the number of veterans attending Calvin might not warrant a specific position or office, the fact is that all of us who work here are part of the web of support and services that veterans may need,” said Witte. “Veteran students are not all the same, and their experience, needs, and life circumstances are unique to them. So if it’s housing needs or counseling support or academic questions or financial situations or chaplain conversations—this is what we all can provide.”

“We are fortunate to live and work in a country that preserves freedom of religion for all its people, and to support students in their pursuit of higher education in tangible ways,” said Witte. “A free and open democracy requires the service, and even sacrifice, of its people, and while there are many ways that citizens can contribute to this, serving in the military is a significant commitment that we recognize on Veteran’s Day.”

While the programs on Monday, November 12, including a flag raising ceremony (8 a.m. at the Spoelhof Center flag pole) and prayer at Chapel (10 a.m.), are more quiet and subtle, Witte hopes they are still quite meaningful.  

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