The Vols for Vets student organization, conceived by a group of law students to better assist veterans in the Knoxville community, has earned recognition from the University for its extraordinary contributions to campus life.
On Tuesday, leaders of the organization – including College of Law students Chris Davis, Ben Johnson and Andrew Cox – accepted the Charles R. Burchett award from Chancellor Beverly Davenport. Their accomplishment is the culmination of a year-long effort to reinvigorate the student group.
Davis, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant, has served overseas, been deployed multiple times and remains on active duty as a captain while attending law school.
When he arrived at UT in 2016, he had a strong desire to assist service men and women and their families. He immediately began working with UT Pro Bono to provide legal counsel to veterans in the community during Saturday clinics.
“At every one of those events we realized that there was a tremendous need,” he said. “There were always plenty of veterans who needed some kind of legal assistance.”
Davis and several of his classmates began identifying other student veterans, exploring possibilities to grow existing veterans groups at UT, and sharing their vision for Vols for Vets to have a strong impact in East Tennessee.
In March 2017, eight UT Law students traveled together to Fort Campbell, Ky. to visit the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate for the 101st Airborne Division during an Alternative Spring Break.
They returned to Knoxville to draft a new constitution for the group founded on the ideas of: offering legal assistance to veterans in the Knoxville community; providing support for students who want to serve in the military or U.S. government roles; and fostering leadership development among UT students and members of the organization. And in April 2018, UT’s student government association recognized Vols for Vets as a student organization.
The group first focused on short-term projects collecting toys for the Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots drive, and supporting deployed service members with care packages full of necessities and letters from organization members. The students also began collecting money for a scholarship they committed to establish in the name of Gen. Clifton Cates – a 1916 graduate of the UT College of Law who had been a lineman for Tennessee Vols football and eventually became the 19th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
In January, law students Jenna McNair, the wife of U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew Aaron; and U.S. Army veteran Sean Roberts each were awarded $500 from the Cates Leadership Scholarship fund.
“This was very rewarding, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Davis said. “We want this organization to continue to grow and serve our community.”
Campbell Cox, also a second-year law student who serves as the Vols for Vets communications director, said the organization is now working to connect with attorneys in the Knoxville area who are willing to offer pro bono assistance to veterans.
The group will also continue working to grow the Cates scholarship endowment that will fund military-affiliated students well into the future.
Faculty advisor Briana Rosenbaum said she has been impressed by the Vols for Vets students and what they’ve accomplished in fewer than two years.
“Although not all—or even most—of the students involved are military veterans or service members themselves, they all tackle goals with the same set of values that guide many military men and women,” Rosenbaum said.
“I have been particularly impressed by the shared sense of duty, maturity, honor, commitment, efficiency, and integrity that has infused this group from the start.”