Many of these men and women have completed multiple tours of duty during the long conflicts, and although their reasons for serving are myriad, they share some singular character traits.
“They are not about war, they are about selfless service,” Gen. Jack Keane, GSB ’66, a retired four-star general and a former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, once told a Fordham alumni audience. “In my judgment, they do it for a simple yet profound sense of duty, and they do it for one another. We can never take that for granted, and we at Fordham never will.”
Indeed, the University recognizes the altruism of these men and women and continues serving them by providing access to higher education when they return home.
Their paths to and from Fordham are different. Like Keane, scores of them began their military careers at the University, as part of Fordham’s ROTC program. Still more are now coming to Fordham to continue their education. We are proud to highlight some of their stories.
An Immigrant’s Journey
Kevin Flores was born in El Salvador in 1988, during the country’s brutal civil war, a decadelong conflict marked by extreme violence.
“My relatives tell stories about how the majority of Salvadorans did not willingly choose sides to support,” he says, “but were forced to do so by the guerillas or the government through fear and intimidation.”
When he was just 3 years old, he and his family fled the war-torn nation for a better life in the United States. He recalls his grandmother weeping and praying for their safety, as he and his parents got into a truck headed to Guatemala. He says they traveled in trucks, train cars, and on foot through Mexico and eventually into the United States, where they settled in Springdale, Arkansas.
They were later granted amnesty by the U.S. government.
“Because of these experiences, the elders in my family made sure that from a young age, I understood the privilege of living in the U.S.,” Flores says.
When he turned 18, he enlisted in the Marines. It was his way to give back to the nation he says has given him and his family so much.
After serving in Iraq for seven months in 2007, he began 38 months of training for the Marine Embassy Guard. The special assignment took him around the world. He served at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then in Islamabad, Pakistan. In 2011, he was selected to serve a two-week stint as part of President Obama’s security detail during the president’s trip to Central and South America. The president’s last stop on the tour would be in El Salvador.
Flores says he was humbled by his luck and the circumstances of his homecoming.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that in no other country would this be possible: to arrive undocumented and to come back 20 years later, not only documented but as an American citizen with a top-secret clearance working for the president of the United States.”
The woman who cleared him for entry, a complete stranger, saw from his documents that he was born in El Salvador, Flores says. She looked at him and said, “I’m proud of you.”
Another highlight came at the very end of the tour, Flores says, when President Obama thanked him and the other members of his security detail for their service to the nation.
At the end of the trip, he returned to duty in Islamabad, which is where he was on May 2, 2011, when the president announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed at a compound in Abbottabad, about a two-hour drive from the embassy.
Flores returned to Arkansas the following year and, a few months after getting home, left to attend Fordham. He says part of what drew him to Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies is the University’s reputation as a vet-friendly school—and its commitment to full participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, covering the tuition costs that aren’t covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
He expects to graduate next spring with a B.A. in international political economics. This semester, however, he’s in Washington, D.C., working as an intern with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Flores applied for the position earlier this year and, since September, has been working with New York Sen. Charles Schumer on policy and legislation. Last year, he worked for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in her constituent services office in Manhattan, where he dealt with immigration issues.
Flores says he’s drawn to helping immigrants like himself, particularly at a time when tens of thousands of vulnerable Central American children are fleeing violence in their home countries for the United States. He sees it as a way to continue serving his country.
This fall, he’s studying to take the LSAT, with the hopes of going to law school next year. He’s interested in practicing immigration law.
A Cosmopolitan Patriot
Like Flores, former U.S. Army Sgt. Erik Haass, FCLC ’98, wasn’t born in the United States, but it has become his home.
His father was a Norwegian diplomat, and the family moved often when Haass was young. He was born in Norway and lived in Indonesia and France before the family came to the United States, settling first in Washington, D.C., before moving to New York, when Haass was 18. He found the pace of the city exciting and, attracted by the prospect of getting a Jesuit education, enrolled at Fordham College at Lincoln Center.
At Fordham, Haass majored in history and economics. He joined the Army ROTC program and the Pershing Rifles, a military honor society.
While most cadets in the ROTC program hope to be commissioned as officers when they graduate from college, that wasn’t a possibility for Haass because he was not yet an American citizen. He stayed with the program nonetheless and, after graduating in 1998, went to work for fellow Fordham ROTC alumnus Vincent Cannaliato, FCRH ’63, at Commodore Capital, a small investment banking firm in midtown.
In 2002, while working for Cannaliato, a retired Army captain who served in Vietnam, Haass got his Green Card. He enlisted in the Army the very same day and was deployed to Iraq in May 2003. While serving in Iraq, he applied for U.S. citizenship, which he received in 2005, before his first deployment to Afghanistan.
During that deployment, Haass was part of a quick reaction force called in to support a special forces unit fighting the Taliban in an abandoned village. He says the battle began quickly and reminded him of the vivid, intense fighting in the opening scene of the World War II film Saving Private Ryan. Haass’ squad leader was fatally injured, and Haass himself was shot in his left hand and right leg while retrieving his fallen comrade. He later received a Bronze Star Medal for his actions.
While recuperating from his injuries in Germany, Haass met up with several Fordham ROTC and Pershing Rifles alumni who’d heard he’d been wounded and wanted to pay him a visit.
Lt. Col. Jean-Marc Pierre, FCRH ’92, a military strategist at the Pentagon and acting president of the Pershing Rifles Company D-8 Alumni Association, was among those who visited Haass. He admires Haass’ perseverance and his patriotism. “He was not an American when he joined the military, could never get commissioned … [and]after 9/11 gave up his job on Wall Street to enlist as a private,” Pierre says, calling Haass “a certified Fordham University war hero.”
During Haass’ third deployment, to Afghanistan, he fought in the Battle of Wanat, which President Obama called “one of the most fierce of this entire war.” On July 13, 2008, an estimated 200 Taliban insurgents attacked American and Afghan troops at a remote outpost. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed.
“By that time, I was seasoned,” Haass says, “but it was a level of intensity I had never seen before.”
This past July, Haass was at the White House, where President Obama awarded Sgt. Ryan Pitts the Medal of Honor for his actions during that battle. Pitts had invited his fellow soldiers, including Haass, to the attend ceremony.
Haass credits the bravery and skill of his unit with getting them through the battle.
“We were very experienced, our instincts and reflexes were honed, and I’m grateful for that,” he says. “If you’ve got to live through something like that, at least it’s with people you thoroughly trust.”
During six years on active duty, Haass earned two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Star Medals, among other awards.
In 2009, after returning to the States, he enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where he earned an M.B.A. On his first day on campus, he met his future wife, Rebecca. They now have a 16-month-old son, Robert, and live in Chicago, where Haass works for the accounting and consulting firm KPMG.
Although he was born in Norway and his work continues to take him around the world, Haass says he’s always “felt comfortable” as an American.
“Anyone from any background can be American,” he says. “I’ve always loved America, its diversity and the sense of freedom and opportunity I feel.
“I am always happy and feel very lucky when I return home to my adopted country.”
Human Rights Advocate
Danielle Scalione, FCRH ’07, a former Army captain, joined the Army ROTC program during her sophomore year. She grew close with the ROTC cadre at Fordham, especially during her junior year, when cadets prepare for the Leader Development and Assessment Course, a five-week summer program that tests what cadets have learned and prepares them to enter the military. A cadet’s performance in the course is a big factor in whether or not she’ll get assigned to her chosen branch in the Army.
Scalione’s hard work paid off. She landed in the top 10 percent of the Army’s National Order of Merit List, ensuring her placement in the branch of her choosing: military intelligence.
She was deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in March 2008 and worked with an aviation brigade. During her second deployment to the country, in 2010, she served with an infantry brigade, which gave her more exposure to the lives of Afghan citizens. She was particularly struck by the Taliban’s subjugation of women in Afghanistan, and remembers that many women who traveled outside their homes were required to be chaperoned by male relatives.
“Their lives are completely and totally different than anything you and I have ever experienced,” she says. “I appreciate all the freedoms that women before me have fought for and have provided me, and I just feel like we should try to do the same for other people.”
Scalione’s experiences in Afghanistan reinforced her determination to pursue a law degree after completing her military service. Soon after she returned to the United States, she enrolled at George Washington University School of Law.
She’s interested in national security and international human rights law, fields where she feels her experiences as a military intelligence officer will serve her well. Before she graduates next spring, however, she’ll have another big moment to celebrate: In February, she and her fiancé (whom she met through an Army buddy) will be getting married in Washington, D.C.
Helping Vets Move Forward
More than 400 veterans currently attend Fordham University, and many of them are reaping the benefits of Fordham’s continued participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Fordham’s status as a Yellow Ribbon School and its robust veteran community are part of what attracted Patrick Hackett and Chris Maloney to the University.
Hackett, a senior majoring in economics at Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, initially attended Charleston Southern University, where he played baseball for two years before realizing he needed a change. He spoke with his family, including an uncle in the Marine Corps, and decided to enlist in the Marines. He completed two deployments to Afghanistan, in 2011 and 2012.
Maloney, who’s pursuing his M.B.A. at Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration, enlisted in the Marine Corps and became a pilot after earning his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, then to Afghanistan three times in as many years, starting in 2010.
Both men said the military provided direction in their lives. And both contacted Fordham during their final deployments.
They met at the University last fall, during a veterans’ orientation session. Now they’re serving as co-presidents of the Fordham Veterans Association, an umbrella group comprised of student veterans on all three campuses and in each of the University’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. They work closely with Fordham administrators to assist incoming student veterans.
Isabelle Frank, Ph.D., dean of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies and co-chair of the Fordham Veterans Initiative, hopes the collaboration will provide a one-stop shop for veterans, affording them greater support and social mobility as they transition out of the military, back to civilian life, and into the workforce.
“The GI Bill was crucial after World War II in transforming society and helping to create a strong middle class,” she says. “Reaching out to the millions of men and women who have served … many of them in order to get these kinds of benefits, because they can’t afford them otherwise … is a crucial part of [our]mission.”
This year, Frank says, Michael Abrams began serving as a part-time veterans coordinator at Fordham, working with several work-study students out of an office on the Lincoln Center campus to act as a liaison between the University’s veterans administrators and the student veterans group. He also teaches a seminar on career transition leadership that’s designed to prepare student veterans for careers in the private sector.
Hackett and Maloney, meanwhile, are working hard to make sure their fellow student veterans get involved and get the resources they need to succeed, whether that’s help navigating academia or teaming up with partner organizations to find internship opportunities and help kick-start careers.
“We’re going to treat [the Fordham Veterans Association]like the same family that you had when you were in the military,” Hackett says he tells his fellow student vets. “If you need something, come through us. You have help. That’s what these veterans groups are really for, to continue serving.”
In September, Hackett and Maloney delivered a presentation for incoming students to introduce them to the services Fordham, its veterans’ community, and its alumni network have to offer. As they streamline operations and plan events for the academic year, Maloney says they’re working under an unofficial motto.
“No rank, no ribbons, no self-serving vets,” he says. “Let’s all work together and move forward.”
—Annmarie Fertoli, FCRH ’06, is an associate producer at WNYC.