The Charger Blog

Veteran Students Find Supportive Environment as Members of Charger Nation

In honor of Veterans Day, meet two remarkable members of the University of New Haven’s veteran community who have recently transitioned from full-time service members to full-time students.

November 10, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Raymond Hernandez and Zack Gelissen.
Raymond Hernandez ’24 (left) and Zack Gelissen ’23 (far right) are members of the University’s veteran community.

Serving in the U.S. Coast Guard brought Raymond Hernandez ’24 all over the country and beyond, enabling him to be a part of several important and impactful missions. He is now preparing for his next mission as a student at the University of New Haven.

Originally planning to pursue a career as a physical therapist, Hernandez decided to instead join the U.S. Coast Guard. He has been stationed from Boston to California to Alaska, where he served twice – most recently as a command chief on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley. He completed his career as training program coordinator in New Haven, earning the rank of chief.

As a servicemember, he responded to hurricanes, the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and provided security detail for President Obama’s inauguration. He officially retired this past September.

“My journey in the Coast Guard was such a blessed adventure,” he said. “I saw so many places, created lifelong bonds, and left with a feeling of true accomplishment.”

Image of Raymond Hernandez at Commemoration Ball.
Raymond Hernandez (left) at a Commemoration Ball for graduating Coast Guard cadets.
‘There is a feeling of pure joy when you know you can pay it forward’

Now a business management major at the University of New Haven, Hernandez is preparing for the next chapter in his life – a career in the field of esports. Hernandez has been passionate about video games since he was eight years old, beginning with an Atari and later exploring other systems such as Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox.

Raymond Hernandez in Seattle.
Raymond Hernandez in Seattle.

As assistant coach of the University’s varsity esports team, Hernandez is combining his gaming, military, and leadership backgrounds. He’s excited to be a part of a rapidly growing field, and to be learning, coaching, and mentoring in “The Stable,” the University’s state-of-the-art esports training and competition space in the new Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation.

“I am naturally a competitive person, and I gravitated toward that genre of gaming,” he said. “I want to help get the best from our esports athletes, both academically and in the field of gaming. There is a feeling of pure joy when you know you can pay it forward and instill that into the next generation of student athletes – not only in the gaming market, but especially, in the market of life.”

Hernandez is one of more than 300 members of the University’s veteran community. His classmate Zack Gelissen ’23 served in the U.S. Navy from 2015-2019. Stationed primarily in Norfolk and Chesapeake, Virginia, he was a master-at-arms, which is a military police member trained in counterterrorism. While on active duty, he achieved the rank of an E-5 petty officer second class. He is now studying criminal justice at the University.

“I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for the law enforcement community as a whole,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go into the field when I enlisted and began working in law enforcement at age 20.”

Image of Zack Gelissen.
Zack Gelissen and his sister during Fleet Week in Brooklyn, NY.
‘I am living my dream’

A full-time student, Gelissen also works full-time in security at Danbury Hospital – an especially challenging role during the coronavirus global pandemic. He aspires to eventually work for a federal agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Image of Zack Gelissen.
Zack Gelissen was promoted to E5 less than a year after earning the rank of E4.

“Even before the pandemic, the job was very physically and emotionally taxing,” he said. “All my professors at the University have been very understanding of my schedule, and they have made sure I could attend class and get my assignments done.”

Hernandez, too, has been grateful for the support he has received at the University as he transitioned from a military career to the role of student and coach.

“I have been amazed by everyone’s positive attitude during the pandemic and by the University’s safety protocols,” he said. “I am living my dream. The staff, professors, and students have created a warm and genuine atmosphere that enabled me to transition easily from a member of the military to a student.”