MURFREESBORO – Jay Strobino was shot 13 times in one-on-one combat with an enemy soldier while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2006.
The right side of Strobino’s body – leg, forearm, lung, chest and neck – was riddled with bullets.
Strobino survived the ordeal and eventually retired from the Army. Twelve years later, the Connecticut native is married and lives in Nashville. He works as a pharmacy technician. His clothes cover his scars and wounds, and he cannot say enough about how the assistance of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University will enable him to graduate in mid-December.
Strobino received the journey award from David Corlew with the Journey Home Project on Dec. 5 during the 12th graduating veterans Stole Ceremony in the Miller Education Center second-floor atrium on Bell Street.
Corlew and country music legend Charlie Daniels co-founded the Journey Home Project, a nonprofit that supports veterans. The journey award is presented to an MTSU student veteran that has overcome significant adversity and transitioned into an unsung hero for student veterans and the Daniels center.
During the one-hour ceremony, the university recognized student veterans for not only their service to their country, but also for finishing their dream to get a college degree.
About 30 graduating veterans received their red stoles, which they can wear during commencement ceremonies at the Murphy Center. They are among a class of 86 student veterans who graduated in December.
“I’m still in shock,” Strobino said of receiving the award that was a surprise until just after arriving at the center. “I was honored even before this award for what the Daniels center has done for me.”
Strobino, 34, was supposed to graduate in 2013 – before there was a Daniels Veterans Center to assist an annual MTSU student veteran population of about 1,000, including family members. He kept hitting hurdles with intent to graduate forms and finding the right offices, so he delayed graduation.
Eventually, he was introduced to Keith M. Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and a retired lieutenant general, and Hilary Miller, the center director. They helped him make the connections and complete the process. Strobino will graduate with a degree in exercise science and minor in biology.
Strobino, who received a Silver Star medal for valor in combat, received a standing ovation from the audience after he graciously accepted the award.
Juan Davila, 42, received the leadership award from Deb Sells, vice president of student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services. He was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry platoon sergeant, who also served in Iraq and, like Strobino, “had several close calls” with the enemy.
“I wouldn’t have gotten here by myself,” said Davila, a native of Costa Rica, who acknowledged the support of his family – wife, Danielle, and daughters, Emma, Isabela and Charlotte – and professors, MTSU staff and Daniels center, where he has been a stalwart in his own right, Miller said.
Accompanied by Annette, his wife of nearly 50 years, Glenn Whitefield, of Lebanon, was the “elder statesman” at the ceremony. He will earn a second MTSU degree in professional studies and computer technology after he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard. He earned his first degree in aerospace after he served in the U.S. Navy.
Miller gave the student veterans a commemorative coin that symbolized continued contributions to the center and MTSU as alumni once they graduate.
Hiller Plumbing, Heating and Cooling and a number of other veteran-friendly companies sent representatives to the ceremony, in hopes of hiring the new graduates.
For more on the veterans center, call 615-904-8347 or visit mtsu.edu/military/index.php online.