June 28, 2006
Student newspaper awash with military veterans
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- If the Daily Egyptian newsroom had a theme song, "Anchors Aweigh" would be in the running this semester.
That might get an argument from U.S. Air Force veteran Joe Lacdan, however.
With summer classes under way, the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has three Navy veterans aboard. Lacdan, who won top awards from the U.S. Department of Defense for his writing ability, rounds out this summer's newsroom roster of military veterans.
The Navy trio held a variety of jobs in the service — air traffic controller, weapons coordinator and even journalist/disc jockey. Each has swapped their dress whites and sea legs for a sturdy pair of shoes and a notebook as they stroll about campus looking for good entertainment and sports stories to fill the pages of the Daily Egyptian and its weekly Pulse section. Lacdan works on the sports desk, covering Saluki athletics.
Faculty Managing Editor Eric Fidler says the veterans bring a variety of skills to the Daily Egyptian.
"So far, it's no different from any other time. I still can't get anyone to call me ‘captain,' but remember, this is our first week of publication," Fidler said. "These students stand out for their maturity. Given that our staff this summer is full of brand-new reporters and editors, it's nice to have several people who are already grown-ups aboard."
Lacdan, a junior from Schaumburg, started classes in spring after finishing his service. Not long after, he learned he had won several writing awards for his work for the base newspaper at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, including Air Force Print Journalist of the Year.
Those award-winning articles eventually captured the Department of Defense Thomas Jefferson Award, the military's top prize for all its print journalists in every branch.
Lacdan said he wants to work in a metro market, such as St. Louis or Chicago, upon graduating. That's one reason he picked SIUC to get his degree.
"The journalism school has a lot of contacts in those area, and I heard it was a really good program here," said Lacdan, 26. "As a journalist, I enjoy going deeper into people's lives and then sharing those stories with people. It's like you have special access and it's a privilege to learn those stories and then tell them."
Daily Egyptian Sports Editor Jim Nelson, 26, holds the distinction of remaining tied to the military through the Navy reserve. The Kalamazoo, Mich., native said he joined the military to get his life together after a lackluster start in college back home.
"If you have no direction, the military fixes that up very quickly," said Nelson, a sophomore. "It gave me the tools to be organized and be more efficient, which are valuable here."
Nelson lived six months in Carbondale, moving down on a lark with a friend in 2000 before joining the Navy in 2001. The move established him as an Illinois resident, and qualified him for state military education benefits, which is how he chose SIUC. He had written for his high school and community college newspapers and decided to pursue a journalist's education.
"I wanted to come back and do what I wanted to do," said Nelson, who trained as an air traffic controller during his service. "And I knew Southern had a good program."
For Mark Edmondson, joining the Navy was a means of ensuring he would see the world before settling down in his Southern Illinois hometown of West Salem.
Edmondson, a junior who is editing the weekly Pulse section at the Daily Egyptian, spent five years in the Navy where he coordinated weapons systems on Spruance Class destroyers. His ship fired some of the first missile salvos of the Iraq War.
Edmondson, 27, topped out as a petty officer first class and left the Navy in 2003. But meeting so many interesting shipmates from other walks of life convinced him he could learn to tell their stories and feed his natural curiosity through journalism.
"I'd like to know a little bit about everything," said Edmondson, whom Fidler says is also a skilled plumber, electrician and woodworker who builds electric guitars.
Along with Lacdan, Allison Dunn is one of two veterans with formal military journalism training. An honors student in high school with a flair for conversation and English, Dunn thought journalism was a natural choice along with the Navy.
"My dad was in the Navy and I wanted to get away and do something important," said Dunn, a junior from Racine, Wis.
She attended joint military journalism training — the Defense Information School — at Fort George G. Meade, where all military journalists receive instruction in print, broadcast, photography and other skills.
"It's very intense training. It makes college look like slow motion," said Dunn, 25, who is writing movie reviews and entertainment stories, among other duties, this summer.
She spent most of her tour as a broadcast journalist, including a stint as a radio DJ. During her service she visited friends at SIUC and decided to attend after leaving the Navy in 2003. After earning her degree, Dunn hopes to go to graduate school to become a counselor.
"I want to help people get through life and be confident," she said. "There's a lot of writing and communication involved in counseling. So I know I'll use the skills I have."
The veterans share a bond. In the Daily Egyptian newsroom, however, the interservice rivalry can result in good-natured ribbing of Lacdan, the lone Air Force veteran.
"Sometimes the Navy people will sing the Navy song and call the Air Force lazy," Lacdan said. "One thing about us (veterans): We're all very punctual and disciplined in our approach to our work. We go the extra mile and that's something you have to do in this business."
Shaping high-quality undergraduate programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.
(Caption: Serving their readers – Four veterans of the U.S. military are working in the newsroom this summer at Daily Egyptian student newspaper at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. They are, from left, Joe Lacdan, Jim Nelson, Allison Dunn and Mark Edmondson.)
Photo by Russell Bailey