Michael Embrich

Alumnus Michael Embrich Advocates for U.S. Veterans While Giving Back to RU-N

As cliché as it sounds, it seems reasonable to say that Michael Embrich (SASN ’10, GSN ’14) was born to serve.

As a kid growing up in Bayonne, NJ, he loved social studies and military history and soaked up everything he could about government. At age 15, he began working for local political candidates, canvassing neighborhoods with questionnaires and getting voters to the polls. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather (WWI), grandfather (WWII) and other family members, and served four years after 9/11 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. And later, as he completed two degrees at Rutgers University–Newark, Embrich threw himself into advocacy work on behalf of veterans, something he does to this day.

“I’m a policy person at heart and have always wanted to do something in government,” said Embrich. “I do this through advocacy, writing and public affairs.”

Embrich’s journey, which started in Bayonne and took him across the world and back to his hometown, where he currently lives with his wife and children, is a testament to his hard work, his family’s commitment to public service, and RU-N's role as a springboard for traditional and nontraditional students alike, something worth taking stock of in the wake of the country’s Veterans Day celebration last week.

While Embrich may have been a shoe-in for military service and is a model veteran, no one could have predicted the circumstances under which he would serve.

Like many youth and adults at the turn of the millennium, he was living a life unencumbered by thoughts of foreign terrorism within our borders. The tragic events of 9/11 changed that. After graduating high school in 2000, Embrich reported to basic training, and then to his ship in Norfolk, Va., which he was acclimating to when Saudi hijackers flew three passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that fateful day. 

Shortly thereafter, Embrich was deployed to the Indian Ocean as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and served as an Airman, maintaining and operating a 50-caliber machine gun aboard the Roosevelt, among other duties. In January 2023 he was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, spending six months in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. 

After completing his naval service in 2004, Embrich returned home to Bayonne and took college prerequisites at Essex Community College, then worked for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Newark Airport before starting at RU-N in spring 2007. But while enrolling in college courses, he realized something disturbing: The GI Bill, first passed in 1944 to provide a range of benefits to former servicemembers, including tuition and living expenses to attend college or vocational school, needed a serious overhaul.

“Try paying for college in 2006 with a 1970s benefit payout,” said Embrich. “It’s insufficient. Free college is no longer free.”

I would not be where I am without Rutgers-Newark. The academic foundation it provided has gone a long way toward helping me move through the ranks of my government career.

Never one to sit on the sidelines, Embrich got on the horn and reached out to Sen. Robert Menendez, Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Donald Payne, rallying with other veterans across the country who did the same with their local elected officials. Their work and persistence paid off, resulting in the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, which expanded educational benefits for military vets who have served since 9/11. 

Embrich’s advocacy work had begun—all of it volunteer.

Since then he has worked steadily with vets from a variety of groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Disabled Veterans of America, on a range of issues. They include stemming veterans homelessness by providing food, housing and transitional support; streamlining access to VA benefits; and employing technology to help vets in rural areas with Uber rides, telemedicine and the like. (The latter issue he wrote a policy paper on.) 

Recently, Embrich worked on the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act), the same bill that comedian John Stewart advocated for to help vets exposed to toxins during military operations, and which President Joe Biden signed into law in August. And from 2018 to 2020, Embrich served as the State Commander for Catholic War Veterans, lobbying New Jersey legislators to pass bills for the veterans community, before being asked by the last two U.S. Secretaries of Veterans Affairs to serve on advisory committees, where he counsels the VA on policy proposals and Congress on possible legislation for veterans who are transitioning from military service to the veterans healthcare system.

Embrich did some of this veterans advocacy while completing his B.A. in History and M.A. in Political Science at RU-N, but he spent even more energy on political campaigns, taking time off to work for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential bid, and working with county, mayoral and council candidates in Hudson County and throughout the state. 

Meanwhile, as a commuter student he loved the academics at RU-N and found time as an undergraduate to work with military vets and participate in voter-registration drives on campus.

“If it piqued my interest and I was available, I was there,” said Embrich. “And my master’s degree work helped me qualify for federal government jobs, which was my goal.”

Immediately after earning his M.A., Embrich began working in the U.S. Army’s Office of Public Affairs, which he did for two years before shifting to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he’s now Deputy Chief of Public Affairs. In this latter capacity he served as the liaison between the Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the entities partnered to build military hospitals in Manhattan and Long Island during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, as Covid emerged and people began sheltering in place, Embrich began work on a military travel guide, March On: A Veterans Travel Guide (Cannon Publishing, 2021), which marries his travel experiences in and out of the military, covers the world’s most significant historical sites for U.S. military personnel, and highlights veteran-owned businesses stateside and in Europe. The volume has received positive press and was featured in a roundup of classic and new travel guides by Men’s Health magazine.

Embrich has also found time to give back to his alma mater, participating in alumni career panels before and during the pandemic, and talking to Political Science classes about his work in politics and advocacy, while offering advice on how to apply for and land jobs.

“I would not be where I am without Rutgers-Newark. The academic foundation it provided has gone a long way toward helping me move through the ranks of my government career,” said Embrich. “The people I met and opportunities I had were terrific. And the way the school caters to commuters and nontraditional students made all the difference. So, I’m always happy to come back and talk with students.”