Veterans don’t always like calling attention to themselves, maybe because they’re trained to keep their heads down and get the job done. But the USC Alumni Association (USCAA) has a message for Trojans who served their country: It’s time to put away the camouflage.
Though veterans cut across every professional, geographic and demographic boundary, they share a strong culture that makes them a distinctive alumni community. Last fall, USCAA launched an affinity group to represent them: the USC Veteran Alumni Network (VAN).
“VAN provides a new opportunity to connect and empower Trojans,” said Erin Mascho, associate director of USCAA affinity programs.
Organizers attracted 120 veterans to VAN’s inaugural reception, nearly half of them Trojans who had never before attended an alumni event. It was a good start.
“Too many of our brothers- and sisters-in-arms have been lost in time and translation,” said Oscar Colindres ’13, speaking at the event. “They deserve to be honored and recognized.”A 39-year-old Iraq War veteran and former Marine recruiter, Colindres was a catalyst behind VAN. Past president of the student-run USC Veterans Association, he graduated with a bachelor’s in English literature and a minor in business law. He’s currently enrolled in the USC Marshall School of Business’ Master in Business for Veterans degree program.
VAN’s inaugural reception on Nov. 5 coincided with the opening of USC’s Veterans Resource Center, the official campus home for all Trojan service members. Soon after retired Gen. David Petraeus and USC President C. L. Max Nikias dedicated the space on the third floor in the Tutor Campus Center, newly minted VAN members were making themselves comfortable there.
“I’m here to see what’s going on, maybe reconnect with some guys,” said retired Marine Maxx Martinez MPAP ’10, who visited the center. A graduate of the Master of Physician Assistant Practice program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, he continues to volunteer as part-time faculty in the Alhambra-based program.
Joel Hoffman PharmD ’61 said VAN will provide veteran alumni with social, educational and career-oriented programming throughout the year. A member of the USCAA board of governors, Hoffman serves on USCAA’s committee tasked with building industry- and affinity-based alumni networks like VAN. The veterans group kickoff follows last spring’s successful launch of the Trojan Entertainment Network for alumni working in the entertainment industry. Two more groups—for Trojans working in education and in real estate—are in development.
But VAN “is particularly important to me,” noted Hoffman, who is a Korean War Army veteran.
Intended to cross generations, VAN also attracts plenty of young veterans—like Brett Ressler ’14, a retired Navy engineman who was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Ressler completed his bachelor’s degree in business last December. He has accepted a management position in Indianapolis and wants to stay connected with other Trojan veterans.
So does Raphael Flores, of Downey, California—a senior business major, retired Marine corporal and father of three.
“This Veteran Alumni Network is not about me,” Flores said. “It’s not about Oscar [Colindres], it’s not about an individual. It’s about a collective of generations, of military people who were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for this country. And we finally have a place to get together at USC.”