SMC honors veterans

On a grey morning on Santa Monica College's main campus, the American flag stood still under the clock tower. The people who fought for it gathered in front of it. SMC honored the veterans who attended last Thursday's ceremony, in advance of Memorial Day. The event recognized the sacrifices the veterans and families of those who attend SMC, made while serving overseas.

The program, organized by the SMC Student Veteran Association and Veteran Resources Center, featured Marine veteran, Corporal Kionte Storey.

Storey lost his right leg after stepping on an improvised explosive device while clearing a home in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon returning to the United States, Storey battled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder until being introduced to his service dog Koja.

"Before I got him[Koja], I couldn't go out in public and actually interact with people like we are now. He's my best friend honestly and I couldn't see living a day without him at this point," Storey said.

One year ago, Storey climbed Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica. He now competes in the 100 and 200 meter dash, training to compete for a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as training service dogs.

"Being able to be here in front of all of these vets, it's an honor honestly. That being said, to give recognition to those who fought and served for our country, who fought along side of us as well, our brothers and sisters who are still out there fighting," Storey said. "It's definitely something that you have to take time and realize that we are blessed to be here, someone is making a sacrifice for the good we have right now and every other day."

For fellow Marine veteran Oscar Ertija, his service made him appreciate the simple things in life.

"I am definitely glad to be home, definitely glad to be alive," Ertija said. "If anything it was an experience that made me appreciate this, made me appreciate the beach and just the simple things."

SMC Student Chioma Ojini performed "The Star Spangled Banner" and became choked up for a moment during her performance. Though Army Reserve veteran and SMC Communications Professor Nate Brown was scheduled to perform "Taps," he was unable to attend and a recording was played in his stead.