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Gen. George Casey Spends Time with Student Veterans, Continues Work at DU

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Matt Meyer



Feature  •
Campus Life  •
Gen. George Casey posing for a group picture with DU student veterans

For veterans, there’s an expectation that comes with seeing a four-star general. Pomp and circumstance, a train of protectors, advisors and subordinates, and a larger-than-life status.

But retired Gen. George Casey (MA ’80), a member of the University of Denver’s Board of Trustees, drove himself to a meet-and-greet with the University’s student veteran population at Top Golf earlier in the spring. He chatted casually, hitting golf balls and exchanging stories and experiences. Introducing himself as George, he made an effort to have one-on-one conversations with all present. Between the golf outing and a more formal meeting one day prior, it allowed student veterans and those working with Veterans and Military Resources to shine a light on the work taking place at DU.

For Sammy Ortiz, a student veteran who also works to assist others in the Veterans and Military Resources lounge, it was a remarkably personal connection with the man who was once the commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq.

“It’s a man who would be considered my most superior boss,” Ortiz says. “That’s a little bit freaky, especially with how I want to present myself, but I had to remind myself that he’s just a man. He puts his underwear on like the rest of us and he was great and extremely receptive when we told him about our projects and what we’d like to do to improve things for veterans at DU.”

“As [a] veteran, I acknowledge all that he’s accomplished on the military side. But he’s also a member of the [Board of Trustees] and that’s a really influential thing. He’s obviously very passionate about the University. I love where I am and where I work, and he’s proven time and time against that he gets things done.”

Casey has long been connected with the University of Denver, having earned an undergraduate degree in foreign service and a master’s in international studies from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Each spring, he returns to campus to teach a course on civil-military relations at Korbel. In 2014, fellow DU trustee Craig Harrison established the Casey Leadership Scholars Program to encourage graduate students to pursue leadership opportunities in the fields of international relations and public policy.

Casey’s on-the-ground work with student veterans, however, has empowered their efforts to improve lives. Ortiz says his main goal in working for Veterans and Military Resources at DU is ensuring eligible parties are aware of all the benefits they have available. It allows those who served and completed “an arduous job,” as Ortiz says, to maximize their experience in higher education. Growing those programs is at the forefront of the office’s work.

Navy veteran Eric Ponce says Veterans and Military Resources has given him a sense of community that he had while on active duty. Meeting with Casey allowed Ponce to share his experiences.

“Seeing him as a person—when you’re in the military, you hear about the people in [Washington,] D.C. and we’re the ones on the ground—it’s interesting and humbling to see somebody in that space so willing to come to where we are and to hear what we have to say.”

While in Denver, Casey also spoke to members of the University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), providing insight into the mind of a high-level military leader. For Damon Vine, director of veteran services at Veterans and Military Resources, that level of strategic thinking has helped grow what the office offers since Vine’s arrival in 2015.

“His advocacy on the [Board of Trustees] can’t be overstated,” Vine says. “He sees a side of the veteran population that other board members don’t really see. But he’s also the type of person who can frame our needs in a way where others can see the value. He’s helped us think about some of our goals at a more strategic and high level.”