PROVO — When Utah Honor Flights resume this spring, more than a dozen veterans will have BYU nursing students as their guardians.
As the veterans travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials dedicated to their sacrifices, the students will learn more about caring for veterans as a requirement for one of their classes.
For nearly a decade, BYU had the only nursing program in the country that dedicated a semester to caring for veterans. It's a source of pride for the program leaders.
"We felt that to know them is to care for them better," said Kent Blad, associate dean of the BYU College of Nursing.
That become the motto of the course.
"The object of this course is having our students get to know these veterans very intimately," Blad said.
Blad and faculty partner Ron Ulberg regularly took students to Washington to visit war memorials and learn more about veterans. Both men are veterans of the Gulf War. Last fall, they went on a Utah Honor Flight as medics and decided their students should share the same experience.
"There's a lot of stuff (veterans) bring home with them that makes them people we need to understand in order to provide better care," Ulberg said.
Blad and Ulberg said they decided spending 72 hours with a veteran as a guardian in Washington would be a great way for the students to learn more about World War II veterans.
In addition to the classroom and practical education the nursing students get, Blad and Ulberg decided their students should accompany veterans on an Honor Flight.
"There is no better education for our students to learn about veterans than placing them in their presence," Blad said.
They know the rewards firsthand. When Blad came home from volunteering on the Utah Honor Flight last fall, he was amazed by the depth of his experience.
"I'd never been more tired in accomplishing a task, but I had never felt more honored, or more privileged to be in the presence of such greatness," he said.
"It made me realize, the amount I grew from the three-day experience, what our students could grow and learn from those experiences," Ulberg said.
Students said they are eager to be a part of the program and learn more about veterans. Some will accompany a grandparent who served in the military.
"I'm so excited," said nursing student Torrie Robinson. "My grandfather is coming with me. … I'm really excited for him. He's never seen his memorial before from his war."
Others are eager to meet a veteran and act as guardian on the flight.
"I really hope that I can gain a deeper appreciation for those who have sacrificed so much for me and my freedoms," nursing student Paige Newman said.
"I really want to learn how to care for them better," added Emma Robinson, another nursing student. "They have done so much for me personally and our country without even knowing me."
The nursing program raised enough money for the flight and received a mentoring grant to sponsor 15 veterans to be accompanied by the students.