Campus Flag Ceremony Honors Veterans

November 10, 2011

(Editor's Note: Every year, Columbia honors veterans by sponsoring a float in New York City's Veterans Day parade, which this year is Wednesday, November 11. The University is proud to recognize its 652 student veterans, the most among our peer institutions.)

Columbia student veterans, ROTC members and others in the University community marked Veterans Day with the first of what will be regular flag raisings by a student color guard on the University’s main campus. Each week, the color guard will raise Columbia’s American flag Monday morning and lower it on Friday evening.

The color guard ceremony, conducted by Columbia’s ROTC members, presented the flag at 9 a.m. on a crisp autumn morning at the main flagpole outside of Low Memorial Library. It was the first on-campus flag raising ceremony in more than 40 years. Afterwards, many Columbia student veterans made their way to midtown Manhattan to participate in the New York City Veterans Day Parade, riding the Military Veterans of Columbia University float sponsored by the University’s School of General Studies.
“I’m in uniform today on campus as a tribute to all veterans,” said Rudy Rickner (SIPA'11, BUS’12), a Marine aviator who was deployed to Iraq as a pilot and ground controller. “I may be a veteran myself but I also want to pay tribute to my grandfather and people who fought before him. If I were to encourage anybody to feel any certain way, I would just ask them to look to the past and see what others have done for America and for the ideals that America represents.”
“It is definitely a community that we are creating here on campus,” said John McClelland (GS’11), a special operations combat medic with the U.S. Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion who did four rotations in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. “It’s one that is also open to dialogue with other aspects of the community, and it is really putting a face and a relationship to the United States military and public in general.”
The flag raising was endorsed by the administration and the University Senate, which had received a proposal from students who are cadets in off-campus ROTC programs. Last month, the Senate released a statement that said “Columbia should welcome the participation of all Columbia students—indeed, of all members of the Columbia community—in campus ceremonies honoring the flag.”
The University has nearly 400 veterans who are students on campus, and is an active supporter of the Yellow Ribbon program, the new federal initiative that makes private universities like Columbia more financially accessible to student-veterans. The veterans themselves are aware that they are contributing a new and very different set of life experiences to the diversity of University life.
Yet the military presence on Columbia’s campus goes beyond merely an influx of student-veterans. In April, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kicked off a national speaking tour by participating in aWorld Leaders Forum with University President Lee C. Bollinger and meeting with Columbia student veterans. And in December 2008, the University dedicated Columbia’s War Memorial in Butler Library andRoll of Honor website.
“The University is very supportive of veterans,” said Marco Reininger (GS’12), president of the Columbia MilVets, the school-wide veterans group. He is an Army veteran of Afghanistan, where he conducted investigations and counter-IED operations. “We have been working together with the administration very successfully on a variety of different projects and different areas, and just the fact that we can have a flag raising ceremony here today and a float in the parade today, just shows how supportive they are of the veterans community here on campus.”
Fourteen Columbia schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and half of the student-veterans matriculate at the School of General Studies, which was originally established in 1947 to meet the needs of veterans returning from World War II. Columbia’s embrace of the Yellow Ribbon program has been noted in the national media, including The New York Times, WNYC public radio, NewsweekUSA Today and the BBC.