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As retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, concluded the MTSU 9/11 Remembrance ceremony Wednesday (Sept. 11), he introduced special guest Rodney Atkins.
Moments later, the country music entertainer with a heart for military personnel and veterans, brought a surprise announcement regarding next year’s 9/11 activities on campus: He will hold a benefit concert in Murphy Center.
The 9/11 Remembrance event, coordinated by the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and held this year in the Miller Education Center atrium, commemorated the 18thanniversary of a series of four coordinated terrorist suicide attacks by the extremist group al-Qaida on U.S. landmarks, which occurred Sept. 11, 2001.
“I would like to do more than just say thanks (for inviting me here today),” Atkins said. “I have asked the general (Huber) if he would allow me to contribute my time, as an artist, to hold a benefit concert right here at MTSU in Murphy Center, to raise money to support both the Daniels Center and Operation Song, a nonprofit group that helps veterans express their feelings and emotions through songwriting.”
“We will hold this concert one year from today and it will be a tribute to our active-duty troops, our veterans, our first responders serving in our cities and states,” he added. “And I will be asking some of my friends to join me on stage and contribute their time and music to the cause.”
Huber, who provided the welcome, introductions and closing remarks, told the audience “to take time to talk to some of the people here today. Ask yourself, ‘where was I (when 9/11 happened)? What was on my day planner? How it changed my life forever.’ … If this was your last day (to live), who would you call and say, ‘I forgive you’ or ‘I love you.’”
Atkins said more details about next year’s concert will be announced by Veterans Day, including ticket information, in November, “so this is a ‘save the date’ announcement for you to mark your calendars to join me and others for what will be a great show for a great cause.”
“It’s the least that I can do,” said Atkins, discussing why he wants to hold a Volunteer Jam-type concert. “It’s an honor to come and be a part of something, working with a great man like Gen. Huber. You want to have hit songs in your career, but the reason you want hits is so you can be a part of amazing things like this. It’s just a blessing to be a part of it.”
Atkins and his wife, Rose Falcon, just gave birth two weeks ago to a son, Scout. They also have two other sons, Ryder and Elijah.
An emotional Jennifer Vedral-Baron, VA Tennessee Valley Health Services director and one of three guest speakers, told her Sept. 11 story publicly for the first time. It involved her daughter, Kelsey Baron, a school-age child at the time, and being alone at home for 12 hours after her school dismissed, and her mother unable to leave her work until hours later. At the time, Vedral-Baron was a director of a U.S. Naval clinic at a secret, underground base.
Vedral-Baron, a retired U.S. Navy captain, said Sept. 11 “is a celebration of the American spirit.” She later said she wonders “why it is not a federal holiday, to celebrate and remember.”
Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause, a U.S. Army veteran, and Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland, an MTSU alumnus, also shared remarks.
Krause told the audience about a soldier, Gene Vance, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan, and how his memory lives on. McFarland discussed leadership — people “doing something no one else wants to do” and how “we will continue to do (things) to support veterans and service providers.”
MTSU ROTC cadets Fabrice Uwimana, a junior, and seniors Brandon Valentin and Nick King took turns reading the timeline of Sept. 11, 2001, events. Country music singer Rachel Lipsky sang the national anthem and veteran Robert Aanerud played taps.
The Daniels Center also held a special two-hour Tennessee Remembrance Walk with the American flag in the heart of campus, a blood drive in partnership with the American Red Cross Heart of Tennessee Chapter and hosted VA and Disabled American Veterans groups promoting their programs to MTSU students.