UA Student: ‘Our Veterans Are a Big Deal’

By David Miller

UA law student Steven Arango, center, worked with UA officials to create the Purple Heart parking space on campus.

University of Alabama law student Steven Arango was overjoyed when he looked around Great Hall in the Ferguson Center Wednesday morning.

Purple Heart veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan gathered to celebrate the unveiling of a parking space to be used exclusively by UA recipients of the Purple Heart.

“Our veterans are a big deal,” said Arango, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see it come to fruition, and having all of the veteran presence here, it made it an awesome event.”

For the past year, Arango worked with UA officials to honor the men and women who’ve been wounded in combat. He was inspired to join the Marines by his late grandfather, who was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in the Marshall Islands during World War 2. That inspiration to honor veterans grew when he was commissioned in the Marines in 2016.

The project at UA seemed simple – designate a parking space and establish special parking privileges for UA students, faculty and staff who’d been awarded the Purple Heart. Logistically, it was challenging: through much of the planning process, Arango was in Florida, where he’d communicate with UA Transportation Services Director Chris D’Esposito to identify a location and to navigate university procedures.

“We had a long email chain,” Arango said. “But I’m thankful for Mr. D’Esposito because the lines of communication were always open. Working with him made it a seamless process.”

Students, faculty and staff must register with UA transportation services to receive a Purple Heart parking hangtag, which will allow them to use the designated space in the Southwest corner of the Ferguson Center parking lot, adjacent to the Ferguson Center. The hangtag also will allow them to park in any zone on campus.

UA assistant strength coach Evan Van Nostrand, a retired Marine and Purple Heart recipient, speaks with fellow Purple Heart recipient Jim Burge (left). Both men attended the unveiling.

Evan Van Nostrand, assistant strength and conditioning coach in UA athletics, earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science at UA in May. He was medically retired from the Marines in 2012 after seven years of active duty, including two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He earned two Purple Hearts and three Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medals. Van Nostrand was one of two Purple Heart recipients currently affiliated with UA to attend Wednesday’s ceremony.

“I think it’s awesome and another thing that makes this campus special and sets it apart from other universities,” Van Nostrand said. “This is what made me want to come to school here – how they take care of veterans. This is what makes me proud to have gone to this university and to continue working here.”

Both Van Nostrand and Arango said their first impressions of UA were shaped by the university’s infrastructure for active duty and veteran students, particularly through the office of Veterans and Military Affairs.

“My best friend, that I went to Afghanistan with, went to school here and told me it’s really veteran-friendly,” Van Nostrand said. “He loved it. This is the only school I applied to and made a visit to. The VMA was a driving force in bringing me to this university.”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.