June 22, 2018 | ° F

Military personnel share experiences

Although she stands at just about 5 feet tall, one would be remiss to judge Major Gen. Maria Falca-Dodson by her stature.

The two-star general and first woman commander of the New Jersey Air National Guard spoke before a mixed audience of veterans and civilians last night in Trayes Hall at the Douglass Campus Center at an event entitled "Support and Defend the Constitution: The Role of The Military in Democracy," presented by Rutgers University Services, Education and Resources for Veteran Students.

"We have had many people in the military say things like ‘The military's at war and America's at the mall,'" she said. "You want America to be at the mall if you're in the military, trust me. Our economy needs people to be at the mall. But we also need the American public to acknowledge the fact that people in the military can't be at the mall."

Throughout the event, Dodson talked about military history in America and how the state of the Armed Forces has changed over the years.

She reminded audience members that the military plays a crucial role in everyday life, even if many overlook it.

"You have to remember that you can have a military without a democracy, but you can't have a democracy without a military," she said.

After Dodson's speech, a panelist comprised of student veterans answered questions regarding life in and after the military in a question-and-answer session.

Although many would not be able to tell them apart from other members of the student body at the University, the panelists' stories proved their lives were different than the lives of their classmates.

RUSERVS Secretary Justin Sasso, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, completed two tours in the Army as a Black Hawk pilot, an experience he said changed his life.

"I think what I'm proudest of is not an individual event [but] the entire experience," Sasso said. "Ten years of my life were devoted to the military. … It really gives you a bond with these people that is really hard to explain. If you stop and think about it, you can really get emotional about it."

School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Rian Hamilton, who spent six years in the Army as part of the 82nd Airborne Division, also said the person she was upon enlisting in the military and the one she is now are entirely different.

"When I joined the Army, I wasn't doing anything with my life," Hamilton said. "I was lazy and unmotivated and hung out with the wrong people. … I joined the Army, and it was just amazing, being able to rise to that occasion. … You never know what you're made of until you have to face this tremendous adversity."

The student veterans also gave advice to those considering pursuing leadership roles in the military.

"Think about the kind of leader that you would want leading you, and try to be that kind of leader," Sasso said. "People will follow because they have to. But you don't want them to follow you because they have to. You want them following you because they want to."

Colleen Roache

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