Attendees at the Yale Veterans BBQ. Photo: Tamika Hollis

In its ongoing efforts to connect and galvanize members of the Yale veteran-military community, the Yale Veterans Association (YVA), an alumni-led shared interest group, recently hosted a series of in-person gatherings and meetups on campus and regionally.

This included the Yale Veterans BBQ, an annual campus event that brings together alumni, student, faculty and staff veterans, as well as cadre and members of Yale ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), friends, spouses, and allies of the veteran community. Temporarily suspended during the pandemic, the Veterans BBQ reemerged stronger than ever as attendees turned out in record numbers to gather face to face again to build and renew personal connections.

According to Adrian Bonenberger ’02, president of YVA and a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, virtual and in-person engagement opportunities remain a key component in strengthening the veteran community.

“Our combination of Zoom and in-person events has been crucial in establishing and maximizing meaningful relationships,” he said, noting the camaraderie and strong bonds that can develop when people physically come together. “When it comes to social events, there’s no substitute for in-person.”

Having attended the funeral last year of Sperie Perakos ’38, Yale’s oldest alumni veteran who served in World War II as a U.S. Army intelligence officer and participated in D-Day at Utah Beach, Bonenberger said he was reminded of how small the Yale veteran community is, and the importance of its members to support one another.

“I hope every veteran who attends one of our events comes away having connected with at least one veteran they’ve never met before, whether for friendship, an exchange of ideas, or some possibility for future professional collaboration,” said Bonenberger ’02.

For Rod Lowe, a U.S. Army veteran and co-chair of the Yale Veterans Network (YVN), Yale’s staff veteran affinity group, gatherings like the Veterans BBQ provide former service members with the opportunity to reflect on their time in uniform, discuss career and personal aspirations, and help them feel more connected to Yale.

“I hope they feel a strong sense of community and help us amplify the message that Yale is a place where veterans are welcome,” he said.

These words resonated with veterans like Will Clancy, a first-year student at Yale Law School whose military career included serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces (also known as the “Green Berets”).

“The veterans’ barbecue was my first opportunity to connect with veterans outside of law school and meet with reps from the different Yale veteran organizations,” he said. “But it felt almost like a homecoming, or a family reunion.”

Will Clancy


Clancy added he was pleasantly surprised that the campus veteran community was “so much larger” than he expected, and he was delighted with the warm reception he has received as a student veteran.

“Yale truly sees us veterans as integral to the community and culture of the institution,” he said. “I am proud to be part of it!”

Over the years, Yale has committed more time, attention, and resources to improve and enhance the student veteran experience on campus, and the university is seeing the return on its efforts. As an indication, U.S. News in its 2022-23 rankings named Yale the #1 Best College for Veterans.

To maintain its important connections to the student veteran community, YVA regularly reaches out to student veterans to become actively engaged in the organization, including service in senior leadership roles.

Two student veterans, for instance, currently sit on the YVA board of directors — Evan Gordon, a U.S. Army veteran and an undergraduate at Yale College who matriculated through the Eli Whitney Students Program, and Erin Collins, a third-year student at Yale Law School who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer.

While YVA sustains an active campus presence and connection, many of its activities and programs are directed toward the veteran community outside of New Haven.

Jay Siembieda ’09 MBA, board chairman of YVA and a former U.S. Navy pilot, said that a recent YVA reception in Washington, D.C. served to unite regional alumni veterans representing a broad cross-section of the Yale community.

“It was a nice opportunity to pull fellow veterans together,” he said. “And the real bonus was meeting veterans who are newer to the area and hadn’t yet participated in our events.”

Siembieda emphasized that the benefit of such events goes well beyond the social.

“Most of the attendees were of the new generation of ROTC classes,” he said. “Now that they are contemplating their private sector careers, it’s important for them to know that they have a built-in veteran support group in the early days of their transitions to civilian life.”

In full agreement was Chris Harnisch ’15 MBA/MA, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who, while a student at the Yale School of Management, served as the primary co-chair of the inaugural Yale Veterans Summit.

“These types of get-togethers are always valuable for veterans in helping them strengthen their professional networks,” he said, adding that the D.C. reception provided a supportive environment to talk about various military and veteran-related matters. “The event gave us a chance to discuss issues and share perspectives on topics unique to the veteran community, such as the impact of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

For Timothy Bang, an Eli Whitney student veteran at Yale College who served in the U.S. Air Force as an Arabic linguist, the recent gatherings reminded him that despite differences in backgrounds, service, and experiences, every veteran is part of the same community and each can play a vital role in uplifting those following in their footsteps.

“We are one team!” he said. “Whether a veteran employee, student, or alum, we love getting together, meeting each other, helping each other – and make Yale a better experience for everyone.”

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