A total of 437 Viking Veterans are stationed at Hudson Valley and while their latest battlegrounds involve parking and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, they remain conscious of the ongoing fights overseas.
“When I see kids being killed and put on pikes or sold into slavery, I know we’re absolutely not doing enough. We need protect the Kurds, the Christians and every sector of Islam that is being betrayed,” said Justin Balleon, a student and former Marine who came from a military family.
“We’re kind of like a family. A giant, dysfunctional family,” said former Marine Ben Colin about meeting other veterans on campus in the veteran study room in the Marvin Library.
“A lot of people can’t relate to the veterans with what we’ve done and where we’ve been. To be able to have our own room where there’s a bunch of guys who have been in the military, it makes it easier to become friends,” said Balleon.
Hudson Valley veterans criticize America’s current role in the emergence of violence from ISIS. Army reservist Ian Becker said, “When we were originally back there during the Iraq war, we had an opportunity to stop them completely and we didn’t do it and now were turning it around. Nobody wants to make an official decision on it because they don’t want the administration to be looked at as the bad guy.”
President Obama asked Congress to formally authorize use of military force against ISIS in his State of the Union address over a month ago but it has not been passed.
“There was a time in history America was the baddest kid on the playground and we handled it the same way we did with the Nazis. We didn’t let them get away with treating them the way we do,” said Gene Mandeville, former Marine diesel trucker operator. “Not only does it affect the people of the nation but it affects us too. It’s disgusting. I don’t think we should just sit back and allow it.”
Mandeville plans to continue defending innocent people as a criminal justice major who hopes for a career in law enforcement.
Some of those who spend time in the veterans study room believe that the military is criticized too heavily by the media.
“We’re not monsters as we’re portrayed,” said Balleon about his deployment. “We have men in vehicles running over IEDs, getting blown up and guy just sits there and and watches it. God forbid we just go over there and knock his walls down because we might run over his feet.”
At the end of Becker’s deployment in Iraq, he and his platoon assisted a local interpreter get a green card into the United States. In 2010, the interpreter became an American citizen. “Just our presence there helped him better his own life,” said Becker.
“You hear war stories. That’s the stuff that’s only portrayed on the news is all the bad stuff. Honestly, 90 percent of work isn’t violent at all,” Balleon said about his experience in Afghanistan. He also mentioned the Marines disaster relief missions in places like the Philippines, which the now-26-year-old assisted in two years ago.
Recently, Oscar-nominated “American Sniper” gained critical reception for the depiction of Chris Kyle, the deadliest marksman in the history of the nation’s military. In the film adaption of Kyle’s autobiography, Kyle is encouraged to help veterans cope with PTSD after he returns home. In 2013, Kyle and a friend were shot and killed at a Texas shooting range by a Marine Corp. veteran battling PTSD. Some media outlets have criticized the film for being too favorable to the wars of the last 15 years.
Balleon supported the film, “It’s unfortunate that people slander an American hero who died trying to help other veterans cope with things like PTSD.”
More than three million cases of PTSD are reported each year according to the Mayo Clinic. The VA reported earlier in January that 11 to 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have PTSD.
“It’s such a unseen disease. I can’t even tell you how many people tell me that I look perfectly normal and happy. Maybe I should get an Oscar,” said Jessica Stout, who joined the Navy at the age of 20 after quitting her job as a waitress. She said the disease has lead her to isolate family and friends.
Several months after returning from Afghanistan in 2011, one of Balleon’s former peers in the Marine Corp. committed suicide. “I just think the stress of coming out of the Marine Corp built up. He had a wife and a kid and everything he dealt with in both wars and getting out, not having any sense of direction in life. He felt lost and chose an option he thought was the best,” said Balleon.
In addition to struggling with PTSD, Hudson Valley veterans have been battling for their rights on campus.
In 1953, Hudson Valley Technical Institute was founded out of the Veteran’s Vocational School in Downtown Troy. Sixty-two years later, some student veterans consider the college to have strayed from it’s roots although it has been named a military friendly school for three consecutive years.
According to Colin, veterans have had a difficult time meeting with the college administration to discuss parking difficulties. In the GI Bill, additional support is covered for health, activities, housing and student center usage but veterans still have to pay parking fees, because the Department of Veterans Affairs considers it an optional fee.
According to student veterans, the $70 parking fees should be waived for former veterans, alongside GI Bill benefits. “A lot of schools like Saint Rose offer free parking to veterans and I think Hudson Valley should as well,” said Jessica Stout, former nuclear machinist mate for the Navy.
Aside from campus parking lots, the college’s decision to have regular class on Veteran’s Day was a cause for concern. “I was told once on Veteran’s Day that if I don’t show up they would still mark me absent. I told them that I was going to visit a friend who didn’t make it and they said it wasn’t an excuse,” said Gene Mandeville, former Marine diesel trucker operator.
Student veterans have been in favor of having an administrative liaison to address the concerns of students with GI Bill benefits across campus. “Having a liaison to veterans is a better thing because we have a different perspective on things. Some of us have more life experiences than the average 22-year-old,” said Colin.