Stephen Vanderbilt was setting up a road-block in Baghdad when his battalion fox company was attacked by 200 Fedayeen and Iraqi Intelligence personnel. This moment is so prominent in Vanderbilt’s mind that he remembers the date: April 8, 2003. Now Vanderbilt, a non-traditional student at Castleton State College, walks around campus in civilian clothes.
Vanderbilt used to stay awake a night and keep watch while his men slept. This habit was not left in Iraq.
“When I first came back there were a few nights when I’d wake up and catch myself looking out the window,” he said. “I’d wake up and think ‘what the heck am I doing?'”
Luckily for Vanderbilt, this habit was all he brought back from war.
“I wasn’t pulling the trigger,” he said.”We have counseling before being discharged, but a lot of the guys won’t admit it if they have problems.”
Vanderbilt and other Marines he served with made a Facebook group where they can talk and discuss their issues.
“It’s helpful when you can talk to people that have experienced the same things,” Vanerbilt said.
Tom Conroy, a communication professor at CSC and a veteran of the Vietnam War, echoed Vanderbilt.
“When I came back, I was very much against the war. My friends that got out of going were pro-war, and when I came back, after having been in the war and being anti-war, they didn’t want to talk to me,” Conroy said. “So after a while I didn’t want to talk to anybody that wasn’t a vet.”
Castleton is a Yellow Ribbon school, which signifies that it is a veteran friendly campus.
“CSC is very vet friendly and the Admissions Office was very helpful when I first walked into the door of their office back in July when I picked up my application for enrollment,” Vanderbilt said. “I also felt that the Registrars Office was fair when reviewing the credits I earned while serving on active duty. Merle Bronson and the rest of her co-workers were very helpful.”
Bronson, registrar and military liaison for CSC, is a main contact for veterans on campus. She not only helps them figure out their financial aid and G.I. Bill status, but she also points them in the right direction for veteran services.
“These people are not walking out of high school and into college,” Bronson said. “I can’t imagine what it takes to trust 2000 strangers [walking on campus]. Being on the defense becomes engrained in you.”
Three years ago Bronson was in New York City during Fleet Week – a week dedicated to the celebration of sea services. When she was on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, she went around and shook every hand and thanked every service man and woman there.
“I saw the most surprised faces and genuine smiles,” Bronson said. “Thanking vets is a tiny thing I can do.”
Castleton President Dave Wolk has been making strides to improve the veteran friendly atmosphere on campus over the last decade.
“I would like the college to be a haven for veterans as well as those who are in the National Guard and ROTC, so that the door can swing both ways. As students come here, and they get called to service they can come back and have it be a seamless transition,” Wolk said.
Veteran services on campus include two counselors who are available Tuesday through Friday. Attempts at a Veterans Club have been made, but lack of interest has discouraged further attempts.
“The ultimate plan is to develop a drop in center on campus that would be an attractive place for vets to come together and commiserate among themselves because there are a lot of very complex issues they have to deal with in terms of reentry,” Wolk said. “Our hope is to develop this drop in center where we could provide not only confidential counseling services, but also a place for Veterans to mingle together.”
Castleton hosts military appreciation days, and will be having a Veteran’s Day ceremony outside of Woodruff on Nov. 11.
“These students have been so generous with their lives and service,” said Wolk. “It makes sense for the college to be generous back. It’s just the right thing to do.”