By Katie Zeck
A variety of events including a free luncheon for all employee and student veterans will mark Rider’s observance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11. The campus will also be welcoming the return of a familiar face.
Russel Melville,’11, an Afghanistan veteran, has begun his position as the university’s Veterans Affairs coordinator.
Melville hopes to act as a scout, or “recon” for the student veterans, military terms meaning someone who is on the front lines gathering information, inspecting the area and reporting back to his team.
“In civilian terms, I want to be an approachable liaison between the university administration and the student veterans,” Melville said. “I want to create an environment that encourages more vet participation at the university.”
Melville explained that while he was a student veteran at Rider, he had a strong support system from his professors and fellow veterans. He hopes to build that same type of atmosphere for current student vets. He said that he feels his experiences following graduation will be an asset to the Veterans Affairs office.
“I came from the corporate world, and there’s a lot I’ve seen and done there that I bring to the position,” he said. “I can take these skills and bring them here to help the vets.”
Some of his experiences include working as a consultant in New York and the United Kingdom.
Prior to his time in the military, Melville worked on hardware and satellites as an Associated Press systems administrator. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks moved Melville in such a way that he felt an obligation to enlist in the army. He was deployed to Afghanistan for one year in 2002.
After almost eight years in the military, Melville, a staff sergeant, decided to return to school to finish his bachelor’s degree at Rider. While doing so, he received support through a military tuition remission program and assistance from the Yellow Ribbon Program, in which veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who have served their country for at least three years following 9/11 can earn their bachelor’s or master’s degrees or professional certificate at a free or reduced tuition price.
Melville hopes to help simplify this process for Rider’s student veterans.
“Most students have one hurdle when it comes to financial aid and then they’re done,” he said. “There are numerous hurdles for the student vets. I’m here to help resolve and address those hurdles.”
In regard to Veterans Day, a holiday that began on Nov. 11, 1918, at the end of World War I, all student and employee veterans are invited to attend the luncheon taking place at noon in the Mercer Room in Daly’s.
ID card manager Greg Hanf is a first sergeant who served for more than three decades from 1967-99 in the Army, Navy and Marines. He said that there will be a special remembrance for fallen veterans, specifically 2007 Rider graduate Lt. Omar Vazquez.
“We’ll have at least one chair set up and leaned over at the luncheon, and that’s for our fallen comrades,” he said.
Vazquez was killed by an improvised explosive device while on duty in Iraq on April 24, 2011. He received his undergraduate degree in history from Rider before attending graduate school at Rutgers-Camden and then enlisting in the U.S. Army.
According to Hanf and Melville, fallen veterans will be remembered in another way on Nov. 11, but they remained tight-lipped about the details.
“The veteran community has planned a way of demonstrating their involvement in the armed forces since 9/11,” Hanf said. “It will be a special display.”