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Penn Law Veterans Club hosts discussion and Q&A with student veterans

November 14, 2018

By Vandana Menon

As part of the Law School’s second annual Veterans Week, the Penn Law Veterans Club hosted a panel discussion and question and answer session on November 13. The event, “I’m a Veteran AMA,” was moderated by Sharswood Fellow CDR (Ret.) Mark P. Nevitt W’97.

The session began with Nevitt talking about Veterans Day and how it originated from Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I a century ago. Veterans Day, observed this year on November 12, celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

The panel was made up of Reid Hopkins L’19, Ted Lauzen L’20, Phil Foster L’21, and Rachel Williams L’21, who still serves in the Air Force Reserves. The discussion began with why the panelists enlisted in the military, and the highs and lows of serving. All the panelists agreed that the camaraderie, shared team work, and work toward a collective goal made for a rich and rewarding experience. They shared that the most difficult parts of serving were losing loved ones in active combat, and how isolating the experience can be from the rest of the world.

Several interesting questions came up through the course of the session, and the panelists answered questions on conflicts and morality, and how to deal with orders or decisions they do not personally agree with. “If someone has an objection to whatever is going on, they will bring it to your attention. Then it becomes the officer’s duty to make sure it reaches the chain of command,” said Foster.

Lauzen said that those serving in the military follow decisions made at the policy level. “When you see issues, raise them with the chain of command and trust that the chain of command will do something,” he said.

“Things are a little different when you’re brown, a little different when you’re a woman,” said Williams, who said that she faces difficult decisions in daily life even though she hasn’t served in active combat. “It’s hard to explain to explain in a civilian context, but how do you work with someone you’re pretty sure is racist? Those kinds of decisions do challenge your moral compass,” she said.

When asked about their feelings about President Trump’s comments on transgender people serving in the military, and the effect on morale, the panelists agreed across the board that the military did not discriminate. “At the end of the day, when you’re all working towards a similar goal, it just doesn’t matter,” said Lauzen.

“No one cared. If you’re doing your job, that’s all we cared about,” Foster added. “And we had each other’s backs.”

“I think the military is set up to experience a lot of the reverberations of things going on in society a lot more quickly,” said Hopkins. “I cannot even take a guess what it feels like to be a transgender person and hear that comment made by your Commander in Chief.” He said that the military has no option but to focus on the mission and “figure things out,” and someone’s identity should not affect the execution of that goal.

Williams talked about how her squadron dealt with the 2016 presidential election and the comments made by President Trump. “Our commander said, ‘It’s okay, the military takes care of itself. Presidents come and go, they always have, but we’re here, and we have the Pentagon and you can trust your chain of command.’ We reinforce our norms,” said Williams.

The panelists also discussed the challenges in adjusting to civilian life and being associated with heroic acts even if they haven’t served for long. They gave advice to the audience on how to engage with veterans without glorifying them or asking uncomfortable questions.

“Just talk,” said Williams, while Hopkins suggested asking questions about their experience.