Training Ground: From Fallujah to Columbia University

Columbia University, 25, Undeclared major

When were you in Iraq?
February through August of 2004

What were you doing there?
My billet was as the Legal Chief for I MEF (I Marine Expeditionary Force).

Why did you choose to go to Iraq?
I didn’t really choose to go. Uncle Sam did. Just kidding. Honestly, as a Marine, you want to be part of the fight. I was part of the rear echelon during the actual invasion in March of 2003. I was lucky enough to deploy to Iraq after it was determined that Marine Forces would relieve 82d Airborne.

Were you going to school before you enlisted?
I was attending SUNY Buffalo prior to my enlistment. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps after my first year, which, like most freshmen, was spent learning the chemistry of beer and shots. I was subsequently activated in 2003 to active duty in support of the war on terrorism.

Did you plan on returning to school after you were finished with Iraq?
I planned on continuing my education. While I was in Iraq, I made the decision of putting in a transfer application to Columbia. My family wanted me closer to home (I’m from New York) and I had always wanted to attend Columbia. The greatest regrets in life are the chances you never take. So upon my return, I took a chance (my family didn’t know until I was accepted). Fortunately for me, it was a chance that paid off.

What was your typical day like?
My days varied as my tasks varied. There were days when I would be on convoys ‘ which meant much longer hours. Days that would be spent in our ‘office,’ where I would wake up at around 6 a.m., get dressed and go to work. I would work until about 5-6 p.m. and grab dinner with the rest of my shop. Afterwards, we kept actual ‘work’ to a minimum and had a decompression period where we would discuss what occurred and what we need to do the next day. Every Sunday, we would climb to a roof of one of the buildings, light up a cigar and watch the evening missions on the city of Fallujah. There were also days where we would go into the towns and villages around Fallujah to build up relations. You could even say it was a humanitarian mission that we embarked on.

Were you ever shot at?
While doing humanitarian missions into local villages, there were incidences where we were fired on; however, we never fired back due to collateral damage and inability to positively identify the enemy. In addition to small arms fire, we were constantly bombarded with mortar and rocket attacks into our camp.

Do you support the war? Are we there for a good reason?
That is a loaded question in this day and age. I would have to say yes. I had the opportunity to see the poverty and anguish that these people live in. For example, part of my job was to help facilitate payments to the locals due to the damages caused to their property during the fighting; we went into these villages consistently. During one of these visits, a child who was about five- or six-years-old followed me. He kept pointing and pulling on the pen I had stuck to my interceptor vest (bullet proof vest), so at the end of my visit I handed him the pen. I jumped onto the back of the humvee and witnessed something that to this day chokes me up. An older man, I would guess his father or uncle, kept trying to pry the pen away from the boy and when he did not succeed proceeded to beat him until he let go. These people are so poor that even the cheap pen was a treasure.

Looking back, are you glad you went?
I would never trade my experiences in Iraq for anything else. It was there that I learned a lot about myself and fostered friendships that will last a lifetime.

What made you leave college and return to college?
I would like to finish my education and move on to serve my country once again. This time, I would trade my combat boots for shoes I could wear in the hallowed halls of our government.

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