IN HIS MORE THAN 16 YEARS AS A UNITED STATES MARINE, Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Venable ’19 worked as a technician and an instructor on multiple military bases. He deployed on two tours in Iraq as a light-armored reconnaissance vehicle commander and served with a wing support squadron in Afghanistan. He moved up in the ranks, married, became a father and completed his military service in 2013. But at 40-years-old, he still had not accomplished one of the things he wanted most: a college education. From Louisiana State University.
When Venable’s wife took a job as a professor at the Air Force’s Command and Staff College in Montgomery, he realized if he wanted a college degree, he would need to set his sights on a school that was within his physical reach. Relying on his computer and technical skills, he enrolled in the Harbert College of Business at Auburn majoring in information systems management. He was finally a tiger, but not at LSU.
“That was a big step for me,” Venable said. “Not because I was 40 and not because of the major. The issue for me was that I grew up in Louisiana and I never thought I would go to any school other than LSU. But here I was at Auburn. A different tiger.”
Shortly before Venable arrived on campus, Auburn women’s golf coach Kim Evans retired and took a position in student affairs. She came up with an idea to provide golf lessons to student veterans and to host a veteran’s golf tournament.
For Venable, those lessons turned into much more than a game. It enlightened him about the resources available to student veterans and gave him the desire to be more involved with the Veterans Resource Center through the Auburn Student Veterans Association (ASVA). After just a few months of attending ASVA meetings, he was elected president. Under his leadership, the association’s presence and relevance on campus grew exponentially. This year, Venable was presented with the Student Leader of the Year award, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Spirit award and the ASVA was named the Most Exceptional Campus Organization. Venable had ideas, but even more importantly, he had the energy and took action to implement things he thought would benefit veterans.
One of Venable’s passions is bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who take their own lives every day.
In the fall of 2018, Venable, along with ASVA Vice President Michael Patterson ’19, partnered with the University of Alabama’s Campus Veterans Association (CVA) to initiate the first Operation Iron Ruck. On the day before Thanksgiving, 32 student veterans from Auburn and Alabama stepped off from the middle of Jordan-Hare Stadium and headed northwest on a 150-mile march to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Each participant carried a rucksack with 22 pounds of donatable items, representing the 22 veterans. During their journey, the veterans battled extreme fatigue, freezing temperatures, rain and blisters while forming unbreakable bonds similar to the ones formed during their time in the military.
Fans greeted the students as they arrived at Bryant-Denny Stadium carrying the game ball. The following week, Venable and others delivered the goods from the rucksacks to the Bill Nichols Veterans Home in Alexander City, Ala. to be used by what Venable calls, “the forgotten generation.” This year, Operation Iron Ruck will march from Tuscaloosa to Auburn.
As president of the ASVA, Venable was also instrumental in beginning AWOL, the Auburn Warrior Orientation and Learning program, designed to help make the transition from military life to higher education life seamless for veterans entering Auburn.
“Sometimes veterans have a hard time transitioning from military life to civilian and university life,” Venable said. “AWOL gives us the opportunity to help make a smooth transition and to let them know we are there for them no matter what their need — or needs — might be.”
In 2018, Venable was invited to represent Auburn at the Student Veterans of America Leadership Institute Academy as one of the Top 100 National Student Veteran Leaders, and was recognized as a Top 10 finalist for Student Veteran of the Year at the Annual Student Veterans of America National Conference.
On May 4, 2019, Venable accomplished another goal and walked across the stage to receive his degree. On the following Monday, he joined the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center as an employee. Once a lover of the purple and gold, he now bleeds orange and blue.
United States Air Force veteran and student services coordinator Robyn Westbrook described Venable this way:
“Camaraderie is familiar to veterans and often missed from our time in service. Kyle does an excellent job reaching out and getting to know our fellow student veterans. He works hard to create a ‘tribe’ atmosphere within the ASVA to help ease the transition back into civilian life. I’m honored to call him my friend and now, my colleague.”