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UNLV celebrates Memorial Day by remembering fallen service members

Memorial Day is recognized every year on the last Monday in May, but UNLV got an early start in observing the holiday this year.

The university’s Memorial Day ceremony, held on Friday at the veterans memorial near Judy Bayley Theatre, began by honoring two fallen service members, as well as an employee from the university’s Military and Veteran Services Center.

The first veteran honored was Lt. Col. Karen Wagner, who had a 17-year military career and eventually served as medical personnel officer in the Office of the Army Surgeon General.

Captain Andrew Ross, an Afghan War veteran, who won various military honors including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and National Defense Service Medal and posthumously received the Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, was also honored.

The third person honored was not a veteran but someone near and dear to the university’s military community.

Sharon Savage, a longtime staff member, worked with the Military and Veteran Services Center for over 10 years, making a positive impact on her community as well as those she worked with.

In a statement from the university’s news website announcing her passing, Savage was described as a consistent, positive presence on UNLV’s campus for more than 15 years. She staffed the front desk, answered calls to the office with a “welcoming voice, responded to late-night urgent emails, and coordinated critical resources to help anyone in distress,” the university wrote.

“Now some of you may be confused as to why we’re honoring Sharon at an event meant to recognize our fallen soldiers,” Ross Bryant, executive director of the Military Veterans Service Center, said. “But when you help over 8,000 veterans graduate college, you deserve to be honored.”

Members of Savage’s family were in attendance Friday and were given a special folded flag to memorialize her life and work. Bryant described her as a valued member of their team and family.

“She was a smiling face, she was the one who answered the phone, she would be the one to greet you if you ever came to the center. She was just such a blessing to us all,” Bryant said. “Your kindess, positive energy and smile will never be forgotten.”

Transitioning from service to civilian life

Claude McDougal, an Air Force veteran and project officer for Rebel Vets, also spoke at the event about Operation Battle Born, an event where teams of attendees and veterans will take turns carrying four rucksacks 60 miles across two days.

Inside the rucksacks are over 7,000 service member’s dog tags, including tags from 59 Nevadans who died during the Global War on Terrorism. The team will travel from Amargosa Valley to the Las Vegas city limits.

McDougal described Operation Battle Born as a grueling marathon, coupled with the teamwork necessary to complete any endeavor by a large group.

The event is put on by UNLV’s Student Veterans of America, known as Rebel Vets, which aims to develop a network of support and mentorship for military-connected students, while closing the gap between military students and civilian students and organizations.

“Operation Battle Born and Rebel Vets serve as an awakening of the relationships between service members and community members of UNLV, and also the transition from service to civilian life,” Rebel Vets Vice President Frank Vizza said.

Operation Battle Born will officially begin at 6 a.m. May 27 and will continue until 3 p.m. May 29.

Contact Kiara Adams at 702-383-0399 or kadams@reviewjournal.com.

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