Vassar Stories

Afghan veteran and a student from a military family team up to initiate a VSA authorized organization for Vassar student veterans

Sara Drotzer '14 never got used to the daily rocket attacks at the airbase where she was stationed in Afghanistan three years ago, but she did learn to discern when it was necessary to take cover in a hurry. “If you could hear the rockets whistle as they came in, that meant they were pretty close and you’d better pay attention,” the junior earth science major explains.

Sara Drotzer ’14 in Afghanistan

Drotzer spent about a year at a U.S. airbase in Kandahar with her Army Reserve unit in 2010 and 2011, performing administrative duties and doing humanitarian work with the families who lived nearby. “It was really interesting work,” Drotzer says. “You hear some people talk about the Muslim culture with hatred, but the families I met were warm and welcoming people who were really big on hospitality.”

Part of Drotzer’s job was teaching arts and crafts and basic English to the children whose parents ran a bazaar at the air base.  “Seeing the faces of the kids when you gave them school books or stuffed animals was heartwarming,” she says. “Here were children who have known nothing but war since they were born.”

Now serving her second six-year hitch in the Army Reserve, Drotzer has had some experiences other Vassar students have never encountered. She’s the only current student to have served in the armed services and one of only about a dozen receiving military benefits for college. She says she had some difficulty adjusting to life on the Vassar campus, where none of the other students had ever served in the military. So when she heard Vassar had accepted 11 veterans into next year’s freshman class, she and another student from a military family, Aleya Romero ’15, decided to form an organization for veterans and others interested in the military.

Vassar is providing various kinds of support for the 11 veterans, including help in searching for off-campus housing for the seven veterans with families as well as faculty mentors who will convene weekly group meetings and bi-monthly individual sessions with the veterans. In addition, the Posse Foundation will run an orientation program before the students arrive on campus and will organize a two-day off-campus retreat next spring.

Drotzer and Romero say they want to ensure there’s also a place the veterans can turn to on campus if they want to share their experiences with other students who understand some of the rewards and challenges of military service. “It’s important for us to start a veterans’ organization here before the Posse vets get here,” Drotzer says.

Sara Drotzer ’14 and Aleya Romero ’15 aim to start a new student organization for veterans and others interested in the military.

Drotzer and Romero met with Registrar Colleen Mallet last semester to discuss their ideas for a military club on campus, and Mallet put them in touch with the incoming veterans through a private Facebook page. They missed a deadline to obtain funding for the club this year from the Vassar Student Association, but they’re in line to receive some money next fall when the new veterans arrive.  “Sara and I had talked about starting an organization for the Posse students, and then, independently, I had almost the same discussion with Aleya, so I got them together,” Mallet says. “I’m glad they found each other.”

Romero, whose father was a captain in the Army, says many of her family’s friends have military backgrounds. “I want the club to be something not just for vets but for other students interested in the military,” she says.  “We hope to bring people in the armed forces onto the campus as speakers and to act as a bridge with local veterans’ organizations.”

Drotzer says she used GI Bill® funds to earn an associate’s degree in science from Dutchess Community College in 2012 and is relying on both government money and Vassar’s Financial Aid Office to complete her studies. She says she hasn’t taken part in many extracurricular activities because she lives off campus and often visits her aging parents in Westchester County on weekends. But she says she’s confident the new military club will be up and running next fall.

“Not all of the new vets may join right away,” Drotzer says, “but there should be a student-run group they can turn to if they want.”

Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013