“It was a good chance to meet people, eat something, and there is free beer,” said Even Whatley, 29, who is majoring in civil engineering and land surveying, after serving in the Air Force.
The Elks Lodge 1657 is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the U.S.A., a national fraternal charitable organization, said Rick Keller, a 42-year member of the lodge.
Keller borrowed a smoker from his son, and the lodge smoked barbecue ribs and served them alongside garlic bread, salad and apple pie.
The cookout was part of a two-day recognition of the student veterans at Southern Polytechnic State University, said Keller. With funding from a grant from the national Elks organization to host the event, Lodge 1657 on Saturday grilled 1- pound steaks, and watched the Georgia football team lose to Missouri, he added.
“Yesterday I ate more steak than I have in my entire life,” said Greg Osborne, the veterans certifying official at Southern Polytechnic State University.
He said that, while the school does put on events to recognize its student veterans, every event like this weekend’s cookout makes a difference for the student veterans.
“Things like this mean a lot. Some of these guys have been through a lot,” he said, referencing many of the veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Lodge also awarded a $1,000 scholarship to student veteran Micah Mulnix at Saturday’s cookout, said Osborne, donated by the SPSU Alumni Association.
All branches of the military were represented Sunday in the close to a dozen students lounging around, enjoying the free beer and food on the back patio of the lodge.
“Yeah. Ribs and beer,” said Matthew Cowan, 27, who is majoring in business administration.
Cowan served five years in the Army and said that when he heard what was on the menu, he decided to attend.
“We’re not your traditional student. We are not living on campus, we have families, pets, responsibilities. We come on campus, do our thing and get off,” said John Fitzpatrick, 34, who served for four years in the Air Force. He is using the G.I. Bill to pay for his telecommunications, engineering and technology degree, he said.
Chris Tranter, an industrial engineering major who served in the Marines, said that Sunday’s menu was more appealing than Saturday’s, and chose to join his fellow student veterans at the Lodge on Sunday afternoon.
“We all have different schedules. Who could turn down free beer and free food?” he asked, with nods of approval from his friends.