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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Mankato war vet, alum to attend State of Union address

Mike McLaughlin wants to help other veterans

Alum invited to attend State of Union, defend vets' ed benefits.

2012-01-24
By Mark Fischenich, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 1/24/2012]

Whatever President Obama says — or doesn’t say — in tonight’s State of the Union Address about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine Corps veteran and Mankato resident Mike McLaughlin hopes the television images of the audience will contain a message of their own.

“There’s a lot of people who stepped up and answered the call,” said McLaughlin, who served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman. “And it would be nice to keep them in the public eye.”

That’s why McLaughlin was invited by Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato to be his guest at the speech and why the Mankato Democrat led an effort to encourage lawmakers from both parties to invite an Iraq War vet — or a someone who lost a family member in the war — to the presidential address.

The invitation meant enough to McLaughlin, the son of Vietnam veteran Tom McLaughlin and Theresa McLaughlin of Mankato, to spend a few hundred dollars on air fare and hotel expenses for the whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C.

A production manager at Unimin in Kasota and the father of a 2-year-old daughter, McLaughlin said a quick trip (he flew out Monday night and will be back on Wednesday morning) was all he could manage.

Mainly, though, he wants his presence and that of other veterans to be a reminder to Americans. His generation voluntarily went to war when asked. The soldiers earned America’s gratitude. And they shouldn’t have to wonder if they will get the benefits that were promised.

McLaughlin was one of several friends who signed up for military service in an 18-month period nearly a decade ago. Many entered college at Minnesota State Mankato and other colleges after completing their service, all running into a similar problem: college officials demanded tuition at the beginning of a semester, but the G.I. Bill often didn’t pay up until two or three months later.

McLaughlin was 24 and newly married, so he’d built up a nest egg. He graduated from Minnesota State Mankato with a Bachelors of Science degree in recreation, parks and leisure services. But younger veterans weren’t financially flush enough to cash-flow the early tuition bills.

Changes to the G.I. Bill that came out of those discussions with Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, included a provision requiring colleges to bill the federal government directly for tuition of veterans and to admit them to classes while awaiting payment.

McLaughlin said he’s honored to be at tonight’s event but considers it less of an individual honor than an honor for all veterans — past, present and future.

For the complete Free Press story, see the Jan. 24 print edition, or go to the e-edition at http://mankatofreepress.mn.newsmemory.com/.

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