A rumor haunted the halls of Regis, the New York City high school Ben Klay ’02 attended: earlier this month, students there thought the Calhoun College senior and Marine officer candidate had already been shipped off to Afghanistan.
The mother of a current Regis student — on campus last week for a high school debate tournament — thought Klay had been called to duty in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. When she saw Klay studying safely at Yale, she ran up to him looking both confused and relieved, Klay said. The mother heard the rumor from her son, who had heard it from a friend.
Klay and other Yalies in the military likely will not be shipped to war any time soon, no matter what course of action President Bush takes. Besides having at least a year of school left ahead of them, most are enrolled in programs with either no active duty requirement or an active duty requirement that will plug them directly into officer positions. Because of this, America’s possible retaliation to the terrorist attack will not change the lives of Yalies in the military more than most students.
“The only thing that’s changed for me [after the Sept. 11 attack] is that now I’m constantly answering the question, ‘Are you going off to war?'” Robbie Berschinski ’02 said.
For Berschinski, the answer is an almost definite, “no.”
Berschinski is an officer candidate in the Air Force’s Reserve Officer Training Corps, a program with a four-year active duty requirement after college graduation. In theory, ROTC members can be drafted to fight in a war, but in practice, this almost never happens. Yale does not offer its own ROTC program, but a handful of students travel to the University of Connecticut at Storrs each week to participate in its program.
Berschinski said he anticipates serving his active-duty term in the intelligence department, where the focus of his work is all that might be affected.
“Whether I’m working on this terrorist thing or drug smuggling, I’m still going to be sitting at a desk in Virginia,” Berschinski said.
Ian Anderson ’02, also in Air Force ROTC, said Bush’s decision to call up reserves looks like a prelude to a declaration of war.
Anderson said the United States is “justified in declaring war and retaliating,” but personally, he is not ready to fight.
“My life right now is very focused on school, on kind of a tranquil life. It probably doesn’t sound good. I know I’m going into the Air Force to serve, but I wasn’t planning to serve until around 10 months from now [when I graduate],” Anderson said.
But if called to duty — though unlikely — Anderson said he would carry out his orders.
The Marines program Klay is a part of is different from ROTC — it has no active duty requirement.
College graduates who complete Marine officer candidate school are offered the position of Second Lieutenant, the lowest officer position, but Klay said they are free to turn it down, which he had every intention of doing before the attack Sept. 11.
Klay said he never thought of the Marines as a career. He enlisted for the same reason some people join the Peace Corps and others participate in Teach for America: it is a worthwhile form of public service and good training for other professions.
But by the time senior year rolled around, Klay, who joined the Marines as a freshman, questioned whether the Marines would be the best use of his time after graduation.
As the events unfolded Sept. 11, Klay said he found himself wishing he were a Second Lieutenant and even thought of enlisting, but he said he has since returned to his previous mind-set.
Ewan MacDougall ’03 is also a Marines’ officer candidate, but unlike Klay, MacDougall said he has always planned to accept the Second Lieutenant position.
The brewing conflict between the United States and Afghanistan only reinforced his decision.
“Marines live for opportunities like this,” MacDougall said.
With two years left at Yale and six months in basic training before he could be appointed, MacDougall will not have the opportunity to serve for a while, but he is preparing anyway.
Physically, MacDougall is working harder than ever.
“I haven’t slept in 24 hours, but in that time I have run six miles, circuit trained for an hour-and-a-half, and spent an hour weightlifting,” he said.
Since the attacks, MacDougall said he has never been prouder of his decision to join the Marines.
“The day the attacks and the mass murder happened, I was upset, sad, angry, nervous — and I found stability in the fact that I, as a Marine in training, will be part of the organization that’s on call to do something about it,” MacDougall said.