Among those attending the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom Thursday, Aug. 25, were, from left, Charlie Daniels Jr., Hazel Daniels, Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller and Jimmy Hiller, owner of title sponsor Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical. The MTSU veterans center is named for Hazel and the late country music legend Charlie Daniels. Hiller received the inaugural Veteran Employer Award. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)
Among those attending the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom Thursday, Aug. 25, were, from left, Charlie Daniels Jr., Hazel Daniels, Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller and Jimmy Hiller, owner of title sponsor Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical. The MTSU veterans center is named for Hazel and the late country music legend Charlie Daniels. Hiller received the inaugural Veteran Employer Award. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

MURFREESBORO, TN — It was a night to recognize veterans, Middle Tennessee State University student veterans, MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and present two inaugural awards.

Nearly 250 people gathered for the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration Thursday, Aug. 25, in the Student Union Ballroom on campus.

The event, presented by Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical and others, was billed as an intimate evening of stories and music with combat veteran Keni Thomas, who served at the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, a conflict between U.S. forces and Somali militia fighters, featured in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller, left, presents the inaugural Veteran Employer Award to Jimmy Hiller, owner of title sponsor Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical, Thursday, Aug. 25, during the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom. Nearly 250 people attended the fundraiser for the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

Friends of the Daniels Center assembled to raise funds for the center and learn how it assists both the 1,000-plus population of student veterans and their families and veterans, service members and their families from all over the world seeking help when they contact the center’s Keathley University Center first-floor offices.

The event was highlighted by the award presentations, the storytelling of Thomas and a special live and silent auction. Hazel Daniels and Charlie Daniels Jr. as well as David Corlew, Charlie Daniels’ longtime manager, attended the function.

Jimmy Hiller, owner of the title sponsor, was awarded the inaugural Veteran Employer Award from Hilary Miller, Daniels Center director who also presented the inaugural Veteran Leadership Award to Doug Kreulen, retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Thomas, a recipient of a Bronze Star for valor and American Patriot Award, was part of special operations in Somalia. Outnumbered 10 to1, the 160 men of Task Force Ranger distinguished themselves in an 18-hour battle. Nineteen U.S. soldiers died; 78 were wounded.

“Any time I tell the story, it’s an honor and a bit of a responsibility,” Thomas said. “If you make it out of something (fighting an enemy) where others didn’t, you’re going to spend the rest of your life thanking the guys that were on your left and on your right.”

David Hunte, program manager for title sponsor Transition to Trades, a program that provides a workforce pipeline for veterans through skills training, said that “our brave military veterans have endless capabilities. It is an honor and a privilege to partner with the Daniels Center to provide support and encouragement to these deserving men and women as they strive for success in the civilian sector. This is the least we can do for those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.”

Hiller said his company has “been working hard to try and help the veterans.”

“The veterans really help us more than we help them. We just give them the opportunity,” Hiller said.

“It’s really an honor to be recognized for the good we’re doing, but, selfishly, we kind of do it for ourselves because they’re such great people, such great Americans,” he added. “We opened our door and said, ‘We’ve got an opportunity to transition (them?) from the military to civilian life and they’ve been great employees for us.’”

Kreulen, who retired as a U.S. Air Force colonel after 27 years, was in the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11 in 2001 and is the president and CEO of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority.

Doug Kreulen, right, receives the inaugural Veteran Leadership Award from Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller Thursday, Aug. 25, at the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom. Kreulen is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served 27 years. His is president and CEO of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

“It is an honor to be recognized during the Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU. My service in the Air Force shaped my life and career in so many ways, and I’m thrilled to be recognized with this inaugural award,” Kreulen said. “Thank you to Lt. Gen. Keith Huber and the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center for all you do in assisting veterans and their families.”

Huber, MTSU senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, noted how “our veterans have served us all as they have defended our freedoms.”

“Their families have sacrificed as they provided their unconditional love and support to their service member,” he said prior to the event. “Our annual Veteran Impact Celebration provides an evening event to collectively celebrate and appreciate our nation, our community and our military.”

Combat veteran and entertainer Keni Thomas performs the song, “Not Me,” to wrap up his one-hour storytelling and music performance Thursday, Aug. 25, during the fifth annual Veteran Impact Celebration at MTSU in the Student Union Ballroom. A recipient of a Bronze Star for valor and American Patriot Award, Thomas was part of special operations in Somalia in 1993. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

MTSU alumna Holly Thompson, award-winning morning news anchor for News4 WSMV, served as master of ceremony. She shared how she met her husband, Lee, at MTSU and she comes from a family of military service: Her father served in the U.S. Navy and Army National Guard; her father-in-law served in the U.S. Marine Corps; her brother, Matthew Thompson, is an MTSU ROTC graduate and served in the Army.

The night’s auctions featured Nashville Predators and Sounds memorabilia, a wine-tasting experience, weeklong stay at a Gulf Coast property and more.

Diamond sponsors were Censis Technologies, Delta Dental of Tennessee, Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project and the Predators.

Platinum sponsors were Amazon military and Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford. Vanderbilt Health was the gold sponsor.

The Journey Home Project, a not-for profit organization that assists other nonprofits in securing funds to help causes that benefit veterans of the United States Armed Forces, has been a financial supporter of the Daniels Center.

About the Daniels Center

The Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, named for the late Country Music Hall of Fame member and his wife, Hazel, serves student veterans and their family members, both virtually and in-person. The 3,200-square-foot suite is located on the first floor in the Keathley University Center.

The largest dedicated space for student veterans on a Tennessee higher education campus, the Daniels Center is a one-stop-shop to meet a wide range of academic, career and social needs. It is designed as a place where veterans can see other veterans, ask questions and receive the trusted assistance needed to transition successfully to the civilian workforce.