Veteran William Treseder Talks about Stanford

There are seven undergraduate veterans on campus. One of them, Sergeant William Treseder, a Stanford junior majoring in Science, Technology and Society, spoke to the Review about his experiences in the Marines and on bridging the gap between the military and the university campus.

Treseder grew up in Davis, California. After graduating from high school, he spent time working—fitting people for shoes at Big Five Sporting Goods and doing construction— before he “tripped and stumbled” into the Marine Corps in April of 2001.

Treseder was stationed for four years in a non-deployable provisional infantry battalion in Washington D.C.’s famous 8th and I St. base and in Quantico, Virginia. He describes his first four years after boot camp as a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle of military parades and governmental ceremonies. The fact that he never deployed – he adds –

was “always sort of a sore spot for me.” Treseder was officially released from the Marines in May of 2007.

He then spent two years at West Valley College, a commuter school in Saratoga, California. His time in the military changed his academic goals and work ethic: Treseder, who had graduated in the bottom 4% of his high school class— “There were kids who didn’t speak any English who did much better than me”—was accepted as a transfer to Stanford in 2007. But before he could matriculate, he was recalled into the Marines.

Despite having to put his Stanford plans on hold, Treseder was excited about his deployment. It “fit most closely with the paradigm of service” that he envisioned for himself. Treseder deployed in January 2008. His unit, the 3-Shop G3ISF (Iraqi Security Forces), deals with the Iraqi army, Iraqi police, and border patrol.

As a part of the Border Enforcement, Treseder worked with the Iraqi army in Anbar Province to patrol the country’s border with Syria and Jordan. He is modest when speaking of his military accomplishments: “because I deployed, people think it makes me some sort of hero…that’s why I really don’t ever hold it up as something amazing that I have done.” There are plenty of people who go to Iraq and never meet an Iraqi, says Treseder. The infantrymen fighting on front lines, “are the guys most directly deserving of praise. Those are the ones who are sweating and bleeding more than anyone else is.”

But Treseder is perhaps too modest. He has dedicated six years of his life so far to the military, and plans to return to the Marines after graduating next fall. In the mean time, he seeks to help bridge the information and cultural gap that he sees between non-military Stanford students and the Marines. “I’d always seen this [the Marines] as the highest form of service, but more importantly, a viable option for me.” He understands that it is not the path for everyone, but he wants the campus to become more aware of the similarities between the military ethic and an academic’s brand of altruism. Stanford students, he says, “want to be significant, want to travel, want to do X, Y, X—they don’t realize how much overlap there is with the military service.” For him, “it’s not about politics, it’s not about going to war, or combat… The amount of people who see combat is very low. There are thousands of jobs that have nothing to do with combat that are incredibly interesting.” It’s about service to one’s country, about having a positive impact, he concludes.

Treseder says that he has not experienced much outward animosity towards him as a Marine who has fought in a war that has seen much opposition from the left-leaning campus. People who do “make off-hand comments” tend to substitute ‘war-machine’ for ‘military.’ When asked about his feelings on the anti-Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld petitions that have circulated around campus, Treseder says, “that is the kind of stuff that really divides elite institutions and the military…It would be hard to explain how negatively these campuses are viewed by the military. Nobody thinks about the Hoover Institute…These guys see these places where you have a population of people that has never done anything outside of academics, who are arm-chair quarterbacking everything.” When attacks by students and academics are formulated, the perception by many of his fellow Marines is “that they are thrown under the bus. They perceive it as an attack by their own country.”

“The sum of what they hear from universities and a lot of people on the left is not palatable” to many marines. The rhetoric that these attacks are often couched in—‘We support the troops, but not the war’—“doesn’t really communicate anything of substance to a marine who’s deployed. You tell me this, you say this, but you don’t know me, you don’t know anyone I know…why are you pretending to care? Maybe you care about the money, and the budget deficit, but do you really care about me as an American? As me as a Marine?”

Treseder performs outreach on campus—speaking at dorms and houses about his experiences and answering questions—as a “liaison for the Marine Corps, or military in general.” He states, “I don’t know if it’s a good thing, or proper. It’s just what I end up doing. I’m not really grateful, I think it’s a really unfortunate situation. Once I found out how bad the problem is here, I see the moral imperative.”

Smiling, he takes a sip from his water bottle with a ‘Semper Fi’ sticker on it, and says, “Know a little bit about the people who are fighting and dying to keep the country as bad-ass as it is.”

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