Alumni veterans supporting ROTC

As the University prepares for the Naval and Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps to return to campus in the fall, the Association of Yale Alumni is also making plans to support the programs.

Since University President Richard Levin announced ROTC’s return in May 2011, the Yale Veterans Association, a shared interest group within AYA that helps connect Yale affiliates who have served in the armed forces, has worked to help integrate the program with both Yale and its alumni base. The association is organizing meetings between Yale alumni and the midshipmen and cadets who will arrive next fall — an effort that Naval ROTC instructor Lt. Molly Crabbe said is designed to provide guidance and continuity to the returning program.

“[The Yale Veterans Association] is really important for our midshipmen because there are no upperclassmen, and the alumni are going to be able to provide some mentorship,” Crabbe said. “We have a 40-year gap, but we do have this body of people, a lot of whom were Yale undergrads, who will have a lot in common, sharing the same values and interests.”

Alumni veterans would help answer ROTC students’ questions about training or serving in the military, which would be especially valuable for cadets without other military connections, said Henry Kwan GRD ’05, AYA’s director of shared interest groups. Of the 10,000 veteran alumni of Yale, roughly 2,000 participated in ROTC, he added.

The veterans association is a relatively new organization that began about 18 months ago, shortly before Levin announced ROTC’s return, association president and co-founder Lt. Thomas Opladen ’66 said. In addition to working with ROTC, the group is trying to create a comprehensive database of Yale veterans, he said.

Kwan said Wednesday that many members of the veterans association have expressed interest in meeting the new ROTC cadets when they arrive. He added that the return of ROTC has “doubled” many veterans’ pride in the University.

“[Yale veterans] are really enthusiastic about the return of the program,” Kwan said. “A lot of alumni who are veterans consider that a large part of their identity. In some ways, it is a more important part of their identity than their Yale connection.”

Capt. Rusty Pickett ’72, a member of Yale’s last ROTC class under the old program, said the University has not helped veteran alumni meet in the past, despite Yale’s long tradition of military service.

“[Alumni] haven’t really interacted as much,” Pickett said. “They might talk at the reunions or something like that, but there was no formal organization that I knew of.”

Opladen said he decided to approach AYA about establishing a veterans group after realizing that Yale did not have one. He added that because Harvard already had a veterans association, he “couldn’t let Yale not have one.”

Interest in Yale’s veterans association has spiked since the University announced the return of ROTC, Pickett said, adding that he has already spoken with Naval ROTC officials about meeting with midshipmen in the fall.

The veterans group also plans to organize local chapters at Yale Clubs across the country, sponsor awards for outstanding cadets and midshipmen in Yale’s ROTC program, and organize an honorary ceremony for ROTC students with Levin, Opladen said.

“I wanted to raise the profile of the Yale men and women who had served in the military,” Opladen said. “I thought that being a veteran and serving in the military needed to be pointed out and recognized.”

Yale formerly had ROTC units between 1926 and 1972.

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