The USC Veterans Association hosted a barbecue Saturday in McCarthy Quad, where student veterans chatted with USC senior  quarterback Matt Barkley and went on an exclusive tour through the new John McKay Athletic Center.

USC students and alumni from all branches and ranks of the armed forces enjoyed an afternoon of food, music and games in celebrating their shared experiences as veterans and Trojans.

Service members · USC Veterans Association members gather at McCarthy Quad on Saturday for a barbecue and tour of the McKay Center. – Photo courtesy of the USC Veterans Association

This was the group’s first on-campus barbecue.

USC Veterans Association President Joshua Jacobs said the purpose of the event was to advance the group’s broader goals:  community-building and networking.

“We focus on fostering an internal community among USC veterans and ensuring that good jobs are in place for them,” Jacobs said. “Members know that they have a home here and that they can pursue career paths after the military.”

According to Jacobs, there are 500 veterans currently enrolled as students at USC. The USC Veterans Association has grown significantly over the past four years, from about five original members to approximately 100 members.  The organization relies solely on donations from alumni.

Barkley attended the event to thank the association’s members for their service. At his high school alma mater, Mater Dei, Barkley joined his parents in their “Monarchs for Marines” campaign, which focused on supporting military families through the renovation of youth areas near Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton. Barkley’s grandfather served in the Navy and Barkley addressed the USC veterans as his “heroes.”

“The servicemen hold a special place in my heart,” Barkley said. “I’ve had respect for [them] since I was a kid. This is a great opportunity for me to thank the Trojans as well as the veterans who served our country so diligently.”

Attendee and veteran Vijay Maisuria, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and corporate finance and is currently a graduate student at the Leventhal School of Accounting, said he enjoyed seeing Barkley at the event.

“As veterans we share a certain brotherhood and sisterhood, but we’re also members of the Trojan Family,” Maisuria said. “It’s an amazing feeling to know that Barkley supports our exclusive group.”

USC center Khaled Holmes, whose grandfather served in World War II, also joined Barkley at the event. The two signed autographs and conversed with guests.

“I have tremendous respect for the veterans of the military,” Holmes said. “I’m here to say thanks for all that they do.”

The USC Veterans Association officially formed in October 2008. Jacobs said the group aims to provide veterans transitioning into USC with networking opportunities and a sense of belonging.

“Coming from different backgrounds and experiences, veterans often have trouble when they are thrown back into school and must manage their finances, live in a new environment and perform academically,” Jacobs said.

USC Veterans Association Treasurer David Kim said though veterans are known to be “lone wolves,” he recognizes the importance of connecting with peers. Kim said the association promotes pride among student veterans and encourages them to find a common voice.

“The Veterans Association seeks to provide support for the personal and school-related issues of its USC members,” Kim said.

The group’s other events include general meetings, community service projects and social events like tailgates and family-oriented outings in Los Angeles. The association’s leaders hope to continue their commitment to social companionship and professional and academic leverage.

“We are pushing to have a veterans resource center built on campus to give returning soldiers a place to go for help and connections,” Jacobs said.

Keith Williams, USC Veterans Association vice president, also said the group’s short-term goals include attracting consistent membership, fundraising and furthering networking efforts on campus and in the community.

Jacobs said the association exemplifies the university’s commitment to serving the country, noting that USC has never eliminated its ROTC program.

“As long as we’re respectful, tactful and passionate, the Trojan Family wants us to succeed,” Jacobs said. “If its students succeed, the school succeeds. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”