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Beyond ROTC: veterans’ summit aims to bridge civil-military gap

Every day, people taking a shortcut through Memorial Hall (also known as the Woolsey rotunda) pass the names of hundreds of Yalies who were killed while serving their country. But for most students today, war and the military are concepts that rarely exist outside the classroom. 

Last weekend, however, the Yale Veterans Association attempted to bridge the growing gap between the military and civilians at the first Yale Veterans Summit. Through panels, keynote addresses, and breakout sessions, more than 300 attendees grappled with questions about the future of civil-military relations, leadership, and military culture both on campus and off. 

“This is a conversation we should have been having all along,” said Mark Dollhopf ’77, executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni.

Though Yale’s military history dates back to the Revolutionary War, the more recent relationship became fraught. In 1970, in the midst of heated protests against the Vietnam War, Yale disbanded its ROTC program, prompting anger among many Yale veterans. But ROTC returned to campus in the fall of 2012, a move that many at the conference saw as a moment of transition for Yale and the military. 

“A lot of people were not terribly happy with what happened with the military at Yale,” said Frederick F. Nagle ’66, chairman of the Yale Veterans Association. “But this has changed dramatically.”

Chris Harnisch ’14MA, ’15MBA, president of the Yale Student Veterans Council and one of the conference organizers, said the summit aimed both to celebrate Yale’s military tradition and to bring attention to an important topic. “Yale’s a thought leader,” he said. “People listen when Yale speaks.”

The event kicked off with a keynote address by Eric Maddox—a former Army Ranger and defense intelligence officer—who told a riveted audience in Battell Chapel the detailed story of how the US tracked down and captured the so-called “Ace of Spades”: Saddam Hussein.

After Maddox’s talk, alumni and Yale professors hosted breakout panels on topics relating to America's civil-military divide. On the second day of the conference, Yale President Peter Salovey ’86PhD delivered an official university welcome, and Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force, gave a second keynote address.

“When you start a summit with that type of energy, it really sets the tone for a great weekend people,” Harnisch said. “I really think that energy was palpable through the entire weekend.”

Conference attendees—including recent and more distant alumni, community members, and students—echoed his enthusiasm.

Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Faint ’13MA, whom the organizers credited with proposing the idea of a veterans’ summit several years ago, said he was thrilled to see the thought come to fruition. “It’s incredible to see Yale remembering its military roots after a long time and to see the military embracing Ivy life,” he said.

Faint, now an instructor at West Point, was accompanied by 15 cadets taking his “Conflict and Negotiations” course. Yale undergraduates hosted the cadets for the weekend.  

For Rob Holland ’58, a Naval ROTC graduate who said he had a “falling out” with Yale when the administration disbanded the program, the conference was an opportunity to reconnect with his ROTC classmates and celebrate Yale’s decision to embrace its tradition of military service.

Harnisch said the summit “set a great precedent”; he hopes it will lead to “something bigger and better in the future.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

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