Initiative to Increase Understanding of U.S. Military

When transfer student and Marine Veteran William Treseder ’11 arrived at Stanford in 2008, he was amazed by the little exposure students had to the U.S. military. Hoping to increase awareness of this crucial component of American foreign policy, Treseder joined the Truman Service Initiative (TSI), a nationwide program which aims to educate college students about the nation’s armed forces.

The non-partisan TSI, which is part of a larger and also non-partisan and non-profit Truman National Security Project Educational Institute, is present at five elite institutions—Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Yale. According to Kelly Gleischman ‘10, Kate Powell ‘10, and Courtney Khademi ’10, who coordinate the program nationwide, these universities are well positioned to have discussions about the military because of the likelihood that their students will become future civilian leaders in anything from engineering to environmental sciences.

When it comes to educating the community, the TSI’s goal is to be as factual as possible. Khademi states that discussions focus on topics such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and National Security Council’s (NSC) role in the military, the force’s different ranks and branches, and how the military has changed over time.

Treseder considers educating the Stanford community about the military important to ensure that students do not make assumptions based on “misinformation and outdated stereotypes” about the nation’s professional fighting force. To address this issue, Stanford’s chapter of TSI, in the words of its co-leader Jessie Knight ’10, “will organize three events this quarter, cosponsored by some of the biggest clubs on campus, with even larger events planned for the spring and the following year.”

One of Stanford’s TSI events this quarter is “Military 101,” an interactive lecture which was cosponsored by both Stanford Democrats and Stanford Conservative Society, once again highlighting the non-partisan nature of the organization. The event, held on January 13, featured Air Force Veteran Paul Clarke and Navy Veteran Ben Renda. The pair discussed several topics, ranging from the role of contractors in armed conflicts, military values and traditions, and the relatively high—when compared to the rest of the nation—educational levels of those who serve. In the night’s most dramatic moment, Renda talked about how when you join the military, “you give a blank check of your life to the United States of America.”

Military 101 also addressed common sources of tension between the military and the civilian population. Among them was the tension between patriotism and global citizenship, a discussion particularly applicable to Stanford, which has a diverse student body with approximately 10% of undergraduates coming to the university from overseas. While concluding that there was no easy answer to any of the six tensions he listed, Renda commented that in general, the U.S. military was not only interested in defending the interests of America, but also in helping to bring stability and freedoms to the world.

In addition to single day events, the TSI plans to offer a Student Initiated Course (SIC) on the military, sponsored by Professor Scott Sagan, during the Spring Quarter. The group already held a successful class last spring, receiving 40 applications for only 20 spots.

On the national scale, the TSI leadership was especially happy with a recent successful debate on Afghanistan at Columbia University.

When asked whether the TSI had a stance on returning Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to Stanford, Khademi, Powell, and Gleischman stated that, being a non-partisan organization, the group neither supported nor opposed the idea. ROTC left campus in 1969 amid hostility between the Stanford community and the military during the Vietnam War.

However, at the Military 101 lecture, Treseder noted that an alternative way to promote ROTC on campus was by making it easier for those interested at Stanford to join. As an example, he mentioned that Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service currently offers monetary support for car rentals to ROTC members, who need to drive to neighboring educational institutions to undergo training.

So far, the Truman Service Initiative has received enthusiastic interest from students and clubs. “As more and more of the students attend our events,” state Treseder and Knight, “we hope they will return to their houses and dorms and have conversations with others who may not have thought much about the issue before. In time, we hope to foster at Stanford a culture of respect, open discourse, and understanding of our nation’s military.”

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