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The display set up this week in at the Leonardtown campus of the College of Southern Maryland is made up of mementos from military service — items loaned by CSM students and staff who are veterans.

A helmet marked by shrapnel.

Photos of a serviceman in uniform, standing with friends.

A map with all of one service member’s deployment stations marked.

A flak jacket, combat boots, medals and commendations, gear worn by a Marine who defused unexploded bombs in Afghanistan and various other items are set out on several long tables in the front lobby of Building C. They are designed to be glimpses of time spent in military service ... and glimpses of the impact that experience left on those who served.

The display, “Things They Carried: Honoring Our Veterans: Operation Understanding,” was put together by the campus’ veterans club. Wayne Karlin, English professor at the campus, is the faculty sponsor of the club and also a veteran, having served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

“We wanted to create a space where they can tell their stories,” Karlin said, as he viewed the display Monday afternoon. Karlin noted that about 640 veterans are now CSM students.

Sometimes veterans can feel a separateness from others, an isolation, he said that both the club and the display is designed to help by giving the veterans a chance to tell their stories.

Nick Engels, 26, a CSM student and member of the veterans club, was a Navy corpsman in the Marine Corps, serving two tours in Iraq and one year in Kuwait and Jordan. He loaned medals and ribbons earned during his service to the display. Those medals include a Purple Heart and Navy Commendation.

“Most of them don’t even know who we are,” Engels said of his fellow CSM students.

He thinks that it would be good for the other CSM students to better understand what serving in the military is really like. “I did seven years, and it’s definitely not like ‘Call of Duty,’” he said, referring to the popular video game.

The best part about his time of service was the bonds he built with fellow servicepeople, Engels said. “I served with the best people I ever met,” he said, describing how they would drop everything to help one another even now. “You don’t see that in the real world.”

Sandra Sparks, 26, of California is studying applied science and technology at CSM and is also a member of the veterans club. She served in the Marine Corps for eight years, including two tours in Iraq.

She said the experience changed her, in some ways for the better. “The discipline aspect is helping me,” she said.

Karlin agreed that veterans tend to stand out. “They are responsible. They actually do their assignments on time,” he said.

Sparks said the veterans club is valuable for people with that shared experience, a kind of support group for people getting used to making all their own decisions again. “I had someone hold my hand for eight years,” she said.

It can be a challenging adjustment, especially for those who came back from their time of service with problems like post traumatic stress disorder, several club members noted.

Matthew Alexander, 26, of Great Mills was also among the veterans club members manning the display when it opened Monday. Alexander is studying English at CSM and hopes to someday be an English teacher. He served in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer for four years. His job was to use a mine detector to sweep areas for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Afghanistan.

It was dangerous work, but “it was fun, though,” he said. “I met a lot of good people doing it.”

For the display, Alexander loaned boots he’d worn since boot camp. “They are like the favorite things I own, honestly,” he said.

Carlos Jelinek of Great Mills, who is studying nursing at CSM, is a sometime member of the veterans club, having served for six years in the 1990s. Jelinek stopped by the display and quickly got caught up swapping stories with Sparks and Alexander. Looking at a board that included a variety of items, including photos of people in uniform crammed into a small space. “See that right there? That’s camaraderie,” Jelinek said, laughing.

And the group was off, talking about the funny places they slept or things they did during their time of service and where they visited.

Karlin said that talking about what happened to you during military service is part of the integration process. “There has to be a sharing of that experience,” he said.

That sharing can broaden the perspective of other students who are perhaps just coming out of high school and have never left St. Mary’s County. That sharing can also help the veterans readjust. “We need to support each other,” Karlin said. “A hell of a lot of suicides, things like that happen after war ... They’ve seen the world and they’ve been affected by it.”

scraton@somdnews.com

If you want to go

The display, “Things They Carried, Honoring Our Veterans: Operation Understanding,” will be open for public viewing in the main lobby of C Building at the Leonardtown campus of the College of Southern Maryland. The public is invited to visit. The display will be available today and tomorrow, April 11 and 12, at least until 4 p.m. each day. For more information on the display or the veterans club, which created the display, email Wayne Karlin at waynek@csmd.edu.