When Dr. Abeer Mustafa told her mother that she intended to spend the summer taking time off after graduating from high school, her mother made a simple statement.
“Either you go to college or you get married,” she said.
Mustafa did neither. She enlisted in the U.S. Army but didn’t tell her parents until the night before she was to leave her home in Houston for basic training in South Carolina.
When the Army recruiter arrived at the door to pick her up the next day, Mustafa said, her father also had a simple statement. “Oh, she’s not going anywhere.”
She did go somewhere and spent four years in the Army, serving as a frontline medic from 1990 to 1994.
Mustafa, now UTC associate vice chancellor for enrollment management and student affairs overseeing Housing and Residence Life, was the keynote speaker at the Chancellor’s Annual Veterans Day Luncheon on Friday, Nov. 10, attended by students, faculty and staff who are veterans or active military.
“I stand before you today with a profound sense of gratitude and respect for the dedication and sacrifice you have made for the people of this nation,” Mustafa told the luncheon group.
“We gather to express our heartfelt thanks for the sacrifices made by those remarkable individuals, sacrifices that have ensured the safety and security of our country and those we hold most dear,” she said. “Your unwavering commitment to our nation’s values and ideals inspire each and every one of us, but we have not forgotten the service of the veterans. That does not end when we hang up our uniform.”
The Army creed is still one of her guiding philosophies, Mustafa said.
“I am a member of a team. I am committed to the mission. I will never quit. I am disciplined. I am an expert and I am a professional,” she said.
At the luncheon, three veterans also were presented with handmade Quilts of Valor for their service.
Fran Randolph, group leader of the QOV Belles, gave the quilts to Dr. John Harbison, professor of practice for the Learning and Leadership programs at UTC and a member of the Army from 1979 until 2000; Joseph Rowell, who was in the Army from 2000 to 2020; and Bradley Thomas Crush, who was in the U.S. Marines from 2012 to 2016.
“When we make quilts, we have three messages that we want to communicate,” Randolph said. “One, we want to honor you. We want to honor you for leaving all that you hold dear. To put yourself in harm’s way or in potential harm’s way for us, for me, for our community, for our state, for our country.
“Second, we want to say, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you because we know that the cost of freedom is never, never free. The cost of freedom is the dedication of men and women like many of you who went, who were called, who did what you were told, didn’t always want to, and you may not have requested to do it, but you did it.
“And third, our quilts are for comfort,” she said, to help soothe those who suffered obvious wounds and also those whose wounds “are on the inside.”
At the luncheon, UTC senior David Gattis received the UC Foundation Sgt. David Alex Stephens Scholarship, awarded to an undergraduate student on active duty with one of the U.S. military branches or who has previously received an honorable discharge.