Zeller '04

By Galia Slayen '13

When Matt Zeller ’04 came to Hamilton College in 2000, he had always planned on becoming a lawyer. But after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, his path changed. Zeller remembered watching the towers fall while at Hamilton and said that he felt a “civic and familial obligation to fight for my country because my family has fought in every single war since the Revolution.”

Around Christmas time in 2001, Zeller and a friend stopped by Sangertown Mall and instead of buying gifts, Zeller signed up for the Army. He graduated first in his class from the Army’s Military Intelligence Officer’s base course and then attended the Maxwell School at Syracuse University before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. While there, he began writing detailed emails about his experience to family and friends.

“I wanted them to have something tangible that they could hold on to as a memory,” Zeller said.
These writings eventually evolved into his first book, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan. The book details his experience on the front line in Ghazni, Afghanistan and is told through the letters and emails he wrote while there.

Speaking to a large audience on Thursday, Feb. 7 in KJ Auditorium, Zeller expressed frustration with the lack of focus and strategy in America’s mission in Afghanistan.

“I hate the saying the ‘War on Terror’ because terror is a tool of desperation. We need to have a war on the ideology that inspires someone who use terrorism,” Zeller said.

Zeller shared his belief that empowering women and providing basic education are the keys to eradicating terrorism in the Middle East. Zeller continued, “Our standard of success [in Afghanistan] should be to have future Afghan children have an ideology that makes them not want to fight us.”

Zeller’s duty to his country later translated into an attempt to serve in Congress.  In 2010, he was the Democratic nominee for New York’s 29th Congressional District.

Fifty students attended his lecture in Bradford Auditorium, and Zeller left a lasting impression.  

“It was really thoughtful and insightful about the problems in Afghanistan that we neglected to address,” said Claeson Dillon ’14.

Reshveena Rajaram ’16, was moved by the presentation and found the lecture “interesting because it is a real life story based in experience and inspires us as Hamilton students to be better.” Zeller’s book is available online and at the Hamilton College book store.


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