By Casey Gale
Veterans Day celebrations this fall at Rider included luncheons, ceremonies, and a 10,000-American flag display on the Campus Mall. Though the festivities have been an honor for the student veterans to enjoy, some feel that the home away from home on campus provided every day by Military Affairs has been one of the best thanks for their service.
Lance Cpl. Jamie Cooper, junior elementary education major and Marine, and Sgt. Joseph Sterling, junior liberal arts major and member of the Army, have been impressed with Rider’s treatment of servicemen and women, after having little to no access to such services at previous schools. Sgt. Brandon Collins of the Army, a junior at University of Pittsburgh who served at Fort Dix with Sterling, was surprised at how Rider’s program compares to his own school.
“At a lot of schools they have Veterans Affairs reps, but here, you actually have somebody who knows what people are going through,” said Collins. “It’s definitely good that somebody who served is doing the job.”
That somebody is Sgt. Russel Melville, ’11, the veterans coordinator.
“That was the thing that I made sure we had,” said Melville. “The connection between the student and me, the person in uniform as well.”
As a member of the Army for 12 years, Melville said talking with students provides them with a level of comfort.
“Students know I totally understand what you endured and what you’re going through,” he said.
For many veteran students, adjusting back into “normal” civilian life is difficult. Therefore, the feeling of being around peers with shared experiences makes day-to-day life easier.
“You will never be normal again. You will never be a civilian,” said Cooper, who served from 2002-06. “It’s just a matter of trying to hold your tongue, and remember there’s a time and place for everything. You have to remember that you can’t say certain things to people like you used to in the military. You can’t talk the same way, you can’t act the same way.”
Sterling, who remains in the Army after six years, agreed.
“Civilians don’t really understand the terms or what you’re going through, but if you talk to somebody who’s in the military, they can relate to you,” he said.
Melville said the vastly different experiences that those in the service have had sometimes make it challenging to level with those who are less mature, even if they are the same age.
“Some of the kids that just came over from high school into college, they seem to think they’re still back in high school, and that respect is missing,” said Melville. “From the time you put on the uniform, all that you went through in basic training and everything to get to this point, respect is the first thing. A lot of the kids that are coming straight from high school have none of that, and it gets to you.”
Cooper said even years after active duty, the ability to share stories with fellow veterans has been a relief.
“For me, I could come here and I feel like I’m at home again,” she said. “Without having to be in active duty, I still just feel like I’m at home, and it feels great. You can act your normal self, you can talk to each other, and people don’t look at you like you’re crazy.”
Cooper said the bond and sense of camaraderie is evident when relaxing in the Military Affairs office, located in the BLC.
“We all are our own individual person, but when you get us all together, it’s like we’re one personality again. We all have similar personality traits, so we can all get along no matter what.”
Melville said that the friendly vibe found in the office is just an example of the general military mindset.
“You are closer than family. Family might be blood, but this is closer than family.”