When a FedEx envelope marked with United States Marine Corps letterhead arrived at his apartment last month, Brandon Linton SOM ’07 knew exactly what it would contain.
Linton, a Marine who served for four years before matriculating at the School of Management in the fall of 2006, opened the package, took a deep breath, poured himself a glass of water, and broke the news to his roommate and his girlfriend. Just weeks before graduation, Linton learned he is being sent back to Iraq in a matter of months.
“My first reaction was sort of ‘Oh crap,’” he said. “It was hard to sleep for a couple nights, but after the first couple of days it was okay. No one is ever happy to get those orders, but you know that it might happen, and it did.”
The Marines offer the opportunity to postpone or transfer redeployment if circumstances warrant such a decision, but Linton accepted his assignment and will report to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in October for five months of training.
Then he will depart for a six-month tour of Iraq. Despite two years of graduate study since leaving active duty and a new life that was diverging further and further from the one he led while serving overseas, Linton now must drop everything and rejoin the Marines for another year of service.
Linton is the second School of Management student in as many years to be called back to active duty. With the “war on terror” expanding and the military’s shortage of troops worsening, many inactive veterans, including graduate students at Yale, must wonder if or when they will be summoned to serve again.
David Glass SOM ’08, a former Marine, received a letter telling him to be ready to travel to Afghanistan when he was an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati in 2001. While he never rejoined the armed forces in an active capacity, like many others, he said he would have signed on again out of a sense of duty and honor had he been recalled.
“I would have been okay to throw back on the camouflage uniform and pick up a rifle, but at the same time I felt it was very difficult to have an educational focus on one hand and to even think about dropping all that and having to go back on the other,” Glass said. “That was something I wasn’t particularly excited about, but had I received the call I would have done it.”
Those who enlist in the military agree to four years of active service and are also available for the eight years following enlistment. After coming off active duty, these veterans are placed on a list called the Individual Ready Reserve, a collection of personnel who have not reached their eight-year threshold and can be called back to active duty at any time.
Some students know almost for certain that they will be sent to the battlefield after graduation. Rich Morgan LAW ’07, who joined the Naval reserves five years ago and is now an officer, said he has never been on active duty but anticipates being called up within a year of his graduation this spring.
“I’ve kind of made some deals with the devil that have enabled me to get through law school without being mobilized,” he said. “I still have commitments to the military after I graduate.”
These commitments put Morgan and the other graduate students affiliated with the military in a unique position on campus. Sometimes they are seen as spokespeople for the military, Glass said, but most often they are approached as individuals who can give a unique perspective on the roles and duties of the military.
The Law School’s opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy can make it particularly difficult for law students, Morgan said. Occasionally, debates over such issues make it appear that military personnel must choose between their classmates and their status as soldiers who must adhere to such policies. But Meagan Reed LAW ’09, who will enter the Judge Advocate General Corps upon graduation, said she does not feel bound by her status as a member of the armed forces.
“I don’t think I am afraid to go on the record in saying that I disagree with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and am lobbying to have it changed, here at least,” she said.
Part of that freedom can be attributed to increased discourse between Yale and the armed forces, Reed and Morgan said. The Law School hosted a panel discussion Wednesday with three active duty officers to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and last fall military officials came to discuss both the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the absence of members of the upper class in the armed forces.
Morgan, who said he is one of 12 to 15 law students with military ties, said law school veterans founded a veterans group last year to increase communication among veterans and to address some of the unique issues these students face. A similar group exists at the School of Management, and each hopes to better unite veterans across the various graduate schools.
Jennifer Kasker SOM ’08 is one of the leaders of the School of Management’s veterans’ group. A graduate of West Point and an Army major who served nine years as a military police officer in Germany and Iraq, Kasker said the veterans’ group focuses mostly on networking and preparing for entry into the business world, a challenge that every SOM graduate faces but that presents unique difficulties for veterans. One of those challenges, Morgan said, is a private job market led by companies that are often averse to hiring military personnel who could be forced to leave for the battlefield at any moment. And, as Linton’s case shows, these companies may have good reason to be concerned about losing a new employee on short notice.
Linton has already secured a consulting job that will be held for him until he returns from Iraq. But being asked to put life on hold has brought home to other Yale veterans the potential risks inherent in being on IRR, he said.
The expansion of veterans’ support groups to address such concerns has made those not affiliated with the armed forces more aware of veterans’ presence on campus and in the world, as has a rise in the number of enrolled veterans at the Law School.
“The relationship we have is great,” Law School Dean Harold Koh said. “We have more veterans in the first year class. … Veterans are looked at with great interest by our faculty and admissions committee.”
All of these steps — from admitting more veterans to inviting more discourse between the military officials and Yale — may help humanize a branch of the country that is largely absent from academia. Morgan said such exposure on campus will only be for the better.
“In the grand scheme of things, the two institutions need each other,” he said. “The government is very dependent on students who come from the highest levels of academia, and at the same time Yale can’t afford to disengage from the military completely.”