Middle Tennessee State University’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center teamed up with the Grand Ole Opry to pay tribute to the service by active duty military and veterans during the annual Opry Salutes the Troops event.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, and Air Force veteran Maranda Vecchio, a graduate student in the university’s physician assistant program, were featured by the Opry during its annual military salute, which airs nationally on its Circle television network on Memorial Day weekend.
The event, which took place Tuesday, May 23, also featured a red carpet parade, where service members and veterans, as well as their spouses, children and parents accompanying them, were greeted by performers featured in the show, including John Conlee, The Oak Ridge Boys, Jason Crabb, LOCASH and The War and Treaty.
Huber, whose 38 years of service in the Army included numerous combat and overseas tours, created the Daniels Center at MTSU. Named for the late country music icon and patron Charlie Daniels and his wife, Hazel, the center is the largest and most comprehensive facility of its kind on an academic campus in the nation.
Huber appeared on the Opry stage to introduce Vecchio, who entered the first class of MTSU’s Physician Assistant Studies Program in May 2022. A native of Woodbury, Tennessee, she started at MTSU in 2006, then left to serve in the Air Force as a dental assistant for five years. She returned to Tennessee, finished her undergraduate degree and later sought to rejoin MTSU as a graduate student.
However, in an interview before the Opry, Vecchio said she hit several bureaucratic roadblocks that prevented her from accessing her veteran educational benefits for four years before learning about the Daniels Center. Huber, along with the center’s director, Hilary Miller, resolved her issues in two weeks.
“Let me just say, they have moved mountains,” Vecchio said. “Transitioning out of the military is rough. Having the Daniels Center is such a blessing…. It is so special, as a veteran, to be able to walk into an office to approach someone with your issue, some trouble you may be having, or just for some advice. I really believe that the whole staff cares about our vets. I don’t believe they are just advocates; they want to see us succeed — and we know that.”
You can see a video of Huber and Vecchio at the Opry below:
In addition to working with the Opry, the country music’s iconic stage and longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history, the Daniels Center has taken part in military recognition efforts by other Nashville brands, including the Nashville Predators, the Nashville Sounds, the Nashville Superspeedway and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
The Daniels Center enables the over 1,200 military-connected student population at MTSU to have a one-stop shop to meet a variety of academic needs. It allows military-connected students to study, gather and get help from fellow veterans, who will serve as peer advisors and sponsors. It is also a resource for veterans and their families without the restriction or requirement to be students, faculty or staff at MTSU.
To find out more about the Daniels Center, go to https://mtsu.edu/military.
— Andrew Oppmann (Andrew.Oppmann@mtsu.edu)
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