By Amethyst Martinez
Thomas Reddington was approved for Rider’s voluntary separation on a Tuesday. He had until Friday to pack up all of his things and leave campus.
Reddington was the coordinator of Veterans and Military Affairs at Rider University, helping military-connected students navigate their way to a degree for 10 years.
When the university started to deal with financial issues, they created an option for employees to apply for a voluntary separation, where they could get certain benefits and severance if they were accepted to give up their position.
“I put in for the program, because the way I looked at it, the writing was on the wall,” said Reddington, who assumed he would be laid off regardless.
His application was accepted, and he was given a three-day notice of his final day, March 4, 2022.
“I thought, since I dealt with students and families, that I would be here to the end of the semester,” said Reddington. “I figured wrong and so then, I was gone.”
Reddington was a U.S. Marine, serving 24 years. He found his way to the university after retiring from the military and deciding to go back to college in 2012, attending Rider.
He worked his way up in Veterans Affairs, first starting as a student volunteer, then a graduate assistant, until he ended up with a full-time position as the director.
Veterans Affairs helps military-connected students with difficult paperwork, such as the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, also known as Chapter 33, that pays for tuition. Many military members qualify for this bill if they have served active duty after September 10, 2001, and can pass these benefits on to their children who are dependents. Rider is a “Yellow Ribbon” school, meaning they accept these benefits. Reddington said that most of the military-connected students at Rider were dependents instead of actual military members.
“The people on Chapter 31, and Chapter 33, they’re getting charged full retail price … there’s no scholarships or grants or any of that institutional money, which is, I’ve come to learn, is all smoke and mirrors,” said Reddington. “They’re making money, gobs of money, on each [military-connected] student.”
Reddington estimates that there are about 50 students who are on some type of military benefit at Rider.
Reddington’s former job also meant reaching out to students and just letting them know that if they needed anything, he was there to help.
Now, Reddington, no longer employed by the school, visited campus to see students and faculty while in the Dr. Eugene Marsh Center for Veterans and Military Affairs office, attached to the Rider University Veterans Affairs (RUVA) lounge, with his dog Flash. In November, it was Reddington who cut the ribbon in a ceremony for the reopening of the office when it was moved to the Bart Luedeke Center.
He sat on the couch, Flash sleeping beside him, surrounded by military pamphlets and miniature military flags on the end tables.
“I was still dealing with families, and so I thought, over time, I’ll tell them I’m no longer working here,” said Reddington. “Then they cut my email off, and then that’s it, and I had no way of contacting these people. All the information was in the Rider email.”
Talyn Trobiano, a senior psychology major, is military-connected due to her father once being a Marine, as well as her boyfriend now being a Marine. Reddington helped her find her footing at Rider after she transferred from a different college. She is also a volunteer for Veterans Affairs.
Trobiano said, “No one really understands the mental toll that it takes [being a military-connected student] and how challenging it truly is, and now there is a community, or there was a community, that fostered a space where people could really understand you, and connect with you, and it was just beautiful. Thomas Reddington made a beautiful place for students to connect on campus.”
She found out about Reddington’s departure only one day before his last.
“I was just like, what does that mean for us? What does it mean for the future of military-connected students? I was very confused on how they could let someone go and not have someone in that position,” said Trobiano.
Many of the people Reddington knew who also got their application accepted for the voluntary separation were given until the end of the semester to leave.
Reddington said, “I really think that they thought, ‘What is he doing?’ you know, he could just leave.”
Currently, there is no one handling Veterans Affairs except student officers. Rider has a job posted to replace Reddington. It is listed as a part-time, 10-month position and does not require a military background.
Leanna Fenneberg, vice president for Student Affairs, said she is working on hiring someone since Veterans and Military Affairs will now be a part of Student Affairs.
Fenneberg said, “I think the inclination, or the hope, is that someone has that [military] background to personally relate. But the success of someone in that role doesn’t require it.”
Darren Rush, a junior criminal justice major, is military-connected due to his father being in the Army National Guard for 27 years. He attends Rider on Chapter 33 benefits and will be the student president of Veterans and Military Affairs next school year.
Rush said, “I think it is important to have someone with a little bit of military experience.”
Trobiano said, “It has to be someone who understands the VA process and is in it. Because, really, an outsider is not going to get this.”
On Reddington’s last day, he sent out an email to all military-connected students. The subject of the email was, “Regrets: I wish Everyone the Best. It was my Honor to Serve You.”
Reddington said in the email, “You have done what the majority of our fellow citizens have not. You have raised your hand and sworn service to a higher ideal or supported a family member who has. I salute you all for that service and sacrifice.”
For now, Reddington is moving on to different things. He is thinking about applying for graduate school at Rider to further his education.
Trobiano said, “I just hope that they make the right decision… because it’s really hard to replace Thomas Reddington.”