Tuesday, November 8, 2022
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Every November, one will walk through the garden of the Oklahoma State University Library and hear the clang and tinkle of metallic memories echoing through the crisp fall air.
For one week each year, personalized dog tags are placed on the American flags placed in rows on Library Lawn to serve as a reminder to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In December 1906, the US Armed Forces officially began issuing metal identification tags to service members. The purpose of these identifications was to ensure that fallen service members could be reunited with their families and be remembered for their sacrifice.
Now, they serve as a representation of sacrifice and a reminder to students, faculty, and guests throughout the OSU Stillwater campus. This also allows OSU alumni who are on 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 US Air Force as an Airman 1st Class with the 92nd Service Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington.
In 2007, when her deployment to Afghanistan was canceled, Peters asked her chief sergeant major and first sergeant to let her go somewhere so she could make an impact. She received a Temporary Duty Assignment (TDY) at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware.
Peters was assigned to mortuary affairs at the Harbor Mortuary. She helped the FBI photograph and fingerprint the fallen remains; send them for autopsy and embalming; and when they returned to her, she dressed them in her military uniforms or wrapped them in an American patterned wool blanket before sending them to her final resting place.
Peters never planned to attend OSU, but when her family moved to Oklahoma in search of job opportunities, the Air Force veteran became an OSU student in the fall of 2021 and became involved in the Veterans Student Success Office.
When Peters arrived in Stillwater, she was proud to see how OSU was honoring service members on the Library Lawn.
Peters felt a strong personal connection to the dog tags displayed on the lawn because he processed several of the honored remains on the lawn. She made time to help set up the flags and nameplates on display.
In the basement of the Student Union, Peters helped sort through the dog tags for the first time. Eventually he picked one up, read the name, and stopped in his tracks.
“It was a name I remembered,” Peters said.
Overcome with emotion, she reflected on one of her most humbling experiences: her four months in mortuary affairs at Dover Air Force Base.
“You have to disengage because you can’t let every person that walks through the morgue beat you up or you would never do your job,” Peters said. “But there was one person that I followed from start to finish as they processed it and it was the name that I saw on the nameplate, 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 each person on those tags had a story, a hometown, and a family. He made Peters think about his own story.
Joining the army was in his blood. Both of his grandfathers served in the Navy and his father served in the Army. However, Peters wasn’t sure 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 she ultimately decided to continue her education at a small private college in Michigan.
In the midst of her college studies, Peters began to question 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 of her hometown.
“I ended up joining the Air Force, and to be honest, it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” Peters said.
His first duty station was at Fairchild Air Force Base. During her time in 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 they’ve seen a B-2 plane refuel mid-flight from a KC-135. It’s an experience like that, the person sitting next to me could never say that he had it,” Peters said.
When the time came, Peters left the Air Force to start a family. She and Tony had three children, Conner, Marshall, and RoseLynne. Eventually, Peters decided that she wanted to go back to college to finish her associate’s degree in digital design and eventually earn a bachelor’s degree to complement her associate’s degree. She made the decision to enroll at OSU.
Determined to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, Peters began studying marketing at Spears School of Business and became involved on campus by serving as vice president of the Society of Military Veterans Families.
“As veteran students, we don’t connect in the same way a typical student does and therefore feel out of place,” Peters said. “You realize that you are not 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 do not have to be veterans or active military. They may be family members of service members or just someone who supports the military.
Peters hopes the changes will continue to help the organization grow and make an impact in the community.
“There were only four of us at the beginning and now I think we are 16. So we have quadrupled since the beginning of the semester, and we keep trying to do more things to engage more people,” Peters said. “We are still trying to find our balance and see how far our reach can go and what we can do as a group. But it’s been so much fun to see the different ideas that people come up with and how they really want to commit.”
The organization’s goal 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 of the glory days while being in a place that prioritizes mental health.
“On average, 22 veterans a day kill themselves because they don’t have a way out. They have no way to connect. They don’t know what resources are available to them, who they can talk to, or they don’t want to burden others with their problems. None of us want to see our brothers and sisters in the fight, so what we’re trying to create here at OSU is build a community of support,” said Peters.
the Society of Families of Military Veterans has held events like gates for military families and their supporters to connect. Peters wants veteran students to connect with each other and find camaraderie.
“Tiffany has been a consistent supporter of the Student Veteran Success Center since we met her last year,” said Vincent Rivera, Student Veteran Success Coordinator. “Her enthusiasm of hers, caring nature and general awesomeness of hers have been instrumental in the resurgence of our center and veterans club.”
Dog tags and flags serve as reminders each year to honor the fallen, but Peters wants veterans to come together more than once each November; he truly knows us as more than just a name on a uniform.
“We really want the student veteran community to know that there is a space for them, even if they feel marginalized, there is a space and that community is getting bigger because we are connecting and opening up and branching out,” said Peters. “We are veterans, from near and far, trying to navigate this new path we’re on, one day at a time, but it’s nice to know we’re not alone on the journey.”