In their own words: Yale College veterans

Two students explore their pathways from the military to Yale, how service shaped them, and how their experiences strengthen the entire Yale community.

When Jack Beecher first arrived at Yale in the 1980s, some people were surprised to hear he was a military veteran. The implication, he figured, was that military experience was viewed as unusual and perhaps somehow incompatible with certain notions of Ivy League culture. 

But Beecher, an Air Force veteran who would later become Yale’s first veteran liaison, knew better: The histories of Yale and the U.S. military have been intertwined for centuries. Across campus there are many students affiliated with the military, including 90 ROTC cadets and midshipmen and, although it can be difficult to track, roughly 110 students who are either military veterans or active duty soldiers. 

Today, as the university’s veteran and military liaison, Beecher helps faculty, students, staff, and alumni veterans access services and resources.

The quality of the students I have seen on campus is inspirational to me,” said Beecher, who served in Vietnam. “These are thoughtful, intelligent, focused individuals, and they make the Yale community better. I’ve always said this is a ‘win-win’ situation: The more military veterans we can get on campus, the better it is for Yale, and the better the military will be.”

This week, as we celebrate Veterans Day, we caught up with a student veteran and an active duty soldier currently enrolled at Yale College, and asked them about their pathways from the military to Yale, how their military service shaped them, and how that experience strengthens the entire Yale community. 

Here are their stories, in their own words.

Evan Gordon, 26

Douglasville, Georgia
Yale College junior majoring in Neuroscience
U.S. Army, Sergeant, 2011-2018

Evan Gordon

When I was in high school, my biggest concern was finding purpose. I wanted to feel like I mattered, and after graduation I left feeling very unsure of who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do. I became attracted to the idealized soldier ethos, which used words like dutyhonor, and country. Soon after, I was shipping off to infantry basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Among the tight knit band of brothers belonging to the specialized reconnaissance operators of the U.S. Army LRS (long-range reconnaissance and surveillance), I accepted new challenges and leadership positions eagerly. I served as the RTO (radio transmission operator), and our missions were primarily of a clandestine nature. Ideally, we would parachute deep into an enemy territory and observe and interdict known targets of interest. I later also served as instructor at the famed U.S. Army Air Assault school, where I taught U.S., foreign, and allied forces how to employ helicopters for tactical and technical mission sets. 

Throughout my career, I served in Germany, Korea, and the Middle East, as well as all over the continental U.S. While in Germany, I witnessed the effect of large scale migration of Syrian refugees into the country, and the failure of the government to address these people’s needs. In the Middle East, I observed violence that bites at the heart when a chemical weapons attack was launched on a town of mostly women and children just a short distance from my operational location. Watching as parents held their dying children that day changed me forever. These experiences showed me that evil really does exist in the world, and that most people are far removed from it; this is a blessing and a curse. I began to concern myself more with global humanitarian issues. 

Inspired by these experiences I decided to come to Yale to pursue a career in medicine. I decided to challenge myself in the hopes that I would discover the limits of my ability so that I could push past them and, in doing so, learn new approaches to problem solving.

At Yale, student veterans bring with them a broad and personal understanding of the unfair state of the world. I did nothing to deserve being born an American citizen with access to doctors, primary education, a democratic system of government, and institutions like Yale, just like the people who don't have access to those things did nothing to be born deprived of them. I hope that through sharing our experiences with fellow students we will be able to inspire others to commit to the challenge of developing new and novel ideas to address the great inequities of our time. For the only suffering that must exist in the world is that which we choose to allow.”

Allegra Pankratz, 27

Wichita, Kansas
Yale College senior majoring in Global Affairs
U.S. Marine Corps, Staff Sergeant, 2011-present

Allegra Pankratz

When I started looking at colleges during my senior year of high school, my main goal was to go somewhere interesting and exciting. Then I found myself on a different path. There was a Marine Corps recruiting station across the street from my house, and the recruiters sold me on the chance to do something I had never done before. The promise of college benefits got me in the door, but after learning more about the Marine Corps, I was excited for the challenge. 

My first duty station was Cherry Point, North Carolina, where I worked as a plane captain on unmanned aircraft systems. One of the great things about the military is how well they train you. I had never worked on aircraft before I enlisted, but a year later, I was on a flight line launching UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. Three years later, I joined the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, where I served as an embassy security guard in Morocco, China, and various South American countries. When I moved overseas, I realized how big the world was, and how little I had experienced. Working at embassies also gave me a much higher-level perspective on the U.S. military. 

When I started to think about going back to school I discovered Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Program, which is unmatched in giving non-traditional students the same opportunities as traditional undergraduates. That was a big selling point for me. Coming to Yale wasn’t really something I had thought about before. I just had never considered it. But after seeing that other veterans and service members had done it before, I figured I would give it a shot. 

Having veterans and service members on campus gives students, or anyone who doesn’t come from a military background, a realistic view of what military service looks like. We’re all different, and we’ve all had different experiences. When I tell other students about the jobs I’ve had in the Marine Corps, most respond by saying, ‘I didn’t know you could do that in the military.’ On the other hand, I’ve been surprised by a lot of traditional undergraduate student experiences I’ve learned about. Everybody has a story.”

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