Alumni Spotlight: Gary Richard '12
Fighting For Those Who Can’t
Fighting For Those Who Can’t
By Ashley Heffernan ’14
One cannot understand the life of an American soldier through Hollywood conjecture or the study of film on the subject of war. It requires an extraordinary person to fight and die for those he does not know. In 1599, Shakespeare referred to these men as “[a] happy few; [a] band of brothers.” Their dedication to service, leadership and honor is exhibited through courageous acts of heroism every day.
Originally drafted at the age of 18, Gary Richard ’12 postponed his career with the army for nearly 10 years after his three-year contract was up. During this time, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Florida, but in the midst of this break, he realized that re-enlisting in the army would afford him the opportunity to do what he loved. Subsequently, this reunion led to an additional 27-year career with the army.
After he retired as a first sergeant in March 2010, Mr. Richard was not initially eager to go back to school. “When I retired I had no thought of going back to school,” Mr. Richard said. “Essentially, it was because I felt that I was too old to go back.”
With a little encouragement from his two sons and an old army buddy, Mr. Richard began to research colleges near his Hauppauge residence. Wait-listed by Stony Brook University, Mr. Richard remembered how Shannon O’Neill, assistant dean and military adviser at SJC, had spoken with him when he was still on active duty.
“When I called St. Joseph’s, they practically bent over backwards for me,” Mr. Richard said. “They took me under their wing as if I was just part of the family. I wasn’t just a number to them, I was a person, and that’s what I love most about St. Joseph’s.”
Upon attending St. Joseph’s, the Long Island native was originally interested in studying history, until he met Carolyn Gallogly, Ph.D., associate professor of community health and human services at SJC. Already a veterans service officer, Mr. Richard’s discussion with Dr. Gallogly inspired him to strive for his true ambitions.
“With the human service leadership master’s program, I’ve learned a lot that I thought I already knew,” Mr. Richard said. “St. Joseph’s has shown me the ways in which I can help others more by being a stronger advocate for them. Now, I’m helping veterans and their families.”
With a degree in human services, Mr. Richard wants to help other veterans who have experienced difficulties upon their return, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, and discussed the number of young veterans coming home each day that are in need of assistance.
“If I help one veteran a day, I have that self-satisfaction,” Mr. Richard said. “I know that I’ve made someone else happy, and that means a lot to me because it’s my way of giving back to other veterans. They’ve helped me and now I’m helping them.”
Since graduating from SJC, Mr. Richard is studying for a master’s degree in human services through SJC’s human services leadership program. He also continues to work with veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Brookhaven. As a veterans service officer, his job entails informing veterans of their benefits and advocating for those rights on their behalf.
“I’m the one that fights for them so they don’t have to fight,” Mr. Richard said. “My job is to make sure that they get the benefits they’ve earned.”
Mr. Richard attributes his current success to both his time spent in the military and the master’s program at SJC. After he earns a master’s degree, he plans to get his license in substance abuse counseling and, maybe one day, pursue a Ph.D.
While stressing the importance of being true to one’s self, regardless of the demands of society, Mr. Richard offers this advice to students: “Follow your dreams no matter what the obstacles may be. Go for your dreams and don’t ever give up. Do what you want to do, not what everybody else wants to do; that is what’s most important in life.”