Call Of Duty (part 2)

We asked 41 alumni veterans to reflect on their U.S. military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are their stories.

Capt. Kevin McCart ’97
Army: ROTC; January 2001-January 2008
Afghanistan: April 2005-March 2006
At Dartmouth: Economics/government major; SAE
Now: Partner, Patton Boggs LLP, Washington, D.C., married; father of three

“As a JAG lawyer I reviewed a lot of operational plans and participated in targeting sessions that included discussions of lethal and non-lethal methods: what tools and resources we had at our disposal to accomplish our missions, from leaflets to lethal force.”

“There was a lot of media coverage given to a story that the United States could have killed Osama Bin Laden shortly after 9/11 when he was riding in a convoy, but a JAG said the attack couldn’t be executed. I never found out if that account was true or not. I never experienced a situation where legal pushback prevented commanders from taking significant action. It was more common for us to deem something legal but for a unit not to act for other reasons.”

“I was struck by the lack of infrastructure and by the fact that Afghanistan, as a country, was a concept many people didn’t get. Afghans identify by family and tribe. Many have never been outside their own valley. Sometimes we would encounter villagers who hadn’t seen foreigners since the Russians left. We were talking about reconstruction because that’s what it was called in Iraq, but it was really a matter of
construction.”

 

Maj. Joseph Scott ’00
Army: ROTC-present
Iraq/Kuwait: 2003
At Dartmouth: History major, drama minor; Sig Nu; DOC; Dartmouth Broadcasting; Marching Band; Dartmouth Wind Symphony
Now: History instructor, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York; married to Emily Copeland ’99; father of two

“To this day I’m impressed that the 20 soldiers under my command spent months at a time, with almost no time off, in a tent in the heat—with all the stress that contingency operations can bring—and never once had a fight or any serious disciplinary actions. It’s a credit to my NCOs that we were able to utilize each soldier’s potential to put together a top-notch platoon.”

“One lasting memory of the war for me is when our battery engaged and destroyed an Iraqi tactical ballistic missile in the opening hours of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Years of training, hours of maintenance and weeks of monitoring the skies paid off in those critical minutes. It was quite an experience.”

“The ad hoc nature of ROTC at Dartmouth—at one point, we had five people in the program—taught me the importance of self-reliability and flexibility.”

“I think the biggest hindrance to getting quality Ivy League officers in the military is the suspicious or conflicted attitudes of the universities themselves.”

 

Capt. Jamie Knies ’94
Army: ROTC-1998; February 2003-January 2004
Iraq: March 2003-January 2004 (Bronze Star)
At Dartmouth: Psychology major; Phi Delt; football
Now: Homeland security management consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton, Colorado Springs, Colorado; University of Colorado 2013 M.P.A. candidate; single; father of two

“I got out of the Army in 1998 after more than three years with an infantry brigade based in Hawaii. By 2001 my ROTC obligation was completed and my reserve obligation had expired. I was a stay-at-home dad in the middle of Missouri. One day I walked down the driveway with my kids and found an old-fashioned telegram in my mailbox, ordering me to report within a month. It turns out that if you don’t officially resign your commission, the Army keeps you on its books.”

“Once I was assigned to a brigade in Iraq it felt like a million exercises I’d done before. It was what I had trained for. I missed my family, but it was a lot more exciting than being in Missouri watching Dora.”

“I spent the last seven months of my tour assigned to headquarters in Baghdad. I was able to drive around in an unarmored SUV. Roadside bombs hadn’t become the trend yet. I felt most vulnerable when I was in a helicopter.”

“Almost everyone I work with is retired military. There’s an understanding that comes from having had the same training, having fired the same weapons, ridden in the same vehicles, been on the same bases. It makes things easier.”

 

Capt. Colin Barry ’06
Marine Corps: June 2006-August 2010
Iraq: February-September 2008
Afghanistan: April-November 2009
At Dartmouth: Economics/philosophy major; Phi Delt; rugby; <em>The Dartmouth
Now: Product manager, Athena Health Care Systems, Watertown, Massachusetts; single

“When I did officer candidate school after freshman year I finished in about the 55th percentile—for the first time in my life. I thought there was something valuable to learn from that. The other thing that motivated me was my all-consuming, soul-sucking time as president of The Dartmouth that I’ll be forever grateful for. After enjoying running a small business and doing work meaningful to the community, I thought the Marine Corps would be personally fulfilling.”

“The infantry was my first choice—try explaining that to your mother when you’re an only child.”

“9/11 made me see the increasing importance of how America relates to the rest of the world. For better or worse, the military in the last 10 years or so has taken on the role the Department of State and the CIA played for previous generations—where you went if you were smart and idealistic and wanted to make a difference in the way the rest of the world works.”

“I worried coming out of the military I’d be behind the curve in the private sector, but as an officer I had a rare opportunity to learn how to build high-performing teams. I’ve come to appreciate how hard that is to teach.”

 

Cdr. Alan Brown ’70, DMS’72
Navy Reserve: December 2002-present
Afghanistan: October 2009-June 2010
At Dartmouth: Biology major; Phi Delt; rugby
Now: Cardiologist, Santa Barbara, California; married; father of Dan ’03 (see page 43) and Lauren ’05

“My wife and I were in Hanover in November 2001 when Dan told us he was planning to join the Marines after graduation. I remember standing in a parking lot on my cell phone, calling various branches of the military to ask if they needed doctors.”

“I’m nearing the end of my career, so being able to work with young Marines and sailors has been life affirming. It’s been an extraordinary opportunity. Between me and Dan it’s been harder on my wife.”

“I had just arrived at a combat outpost of 1,500 Marines in Afghanistan on the November night they were celebrating the corps’ birthday. They presented a dried-out Hostess cupcake to be shared by the oldest and youngest Marines there. The oldest Marine, a master gunnery sergeant, was 51. All I could think was, ‘What a youngster, I have a decade on him!’ ”

“When we first set up in a small village about 80 miles north of the Pakistan border, we were treating 50 to 200 villagers a day who hadn’t received any care in years. Then the Afghan district governor recruited three healthcare workers, and we were able to convert to a supportive role.”

“I can recall sitting in the Baker Library 1902 Room in December 1969 listening to the first draft lottery numbers being announced on the radio. My birthdate came up early, but I’d already been accepted to medical school so I was deferred. I thought then that someday I might be able to serve in a different volunteer capacity.”

 

Capt. John Craven ’03
Army: ROTC-present
Iraq: September 2006-January 2007 and July-October 2007
Afghanistan: May 2010-April 2011 and June 2012-present
At Dartmouth: Government/Arabic studies major; Aikido
Now: Green Beret, qualified for promotion to major; deployed in Afghanistan; single

“As a commander you have to figure out what your guys can do and what they can’t do and communicate that to the command above you. The hardest decision is having to say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ Usually it’s an ‘I need this resource.’ ”

“If you drive your soldiers by believing in them, they inspire and push you to strive harder to be who you want to be.”

“By the nature of our special forces organization we tend to be in the hinterlands. That’s what most guys like. The only request we ever have going someplace is, ‘Send us to the most remote place in the country.’ That’s what we’re trained for. We’re supposed to operate decentralized from a larger organization, which is why we recruit older, more experienced soldiers. You don’t have your creature comforts, but that’s part of the draw.”

“One time in the middle of nowhere we really wanted hamburgers. Two days later, there they were. They just had to be tied to the fence and eat grass for a couple of days.”

“Afghan dogs are great. Mine was a gift from an Afghan police officer. He likes me because I held him as a puppy when there was a lot of artillery fire.”

 

Capt. Mike Breen ’02
Army: ROTC-August 2006
Iraq: August 2003-July 2004
Afghanistan: March 2005-March 2006 (two Bronze Stars, three Army Commendation Medals, Combat Action Badge and Presidential Unit Citation)
At Dartmouth: Government major; Mountaineering Club; Cords; Aikido and jujutsu
Now: Vice president, Truman National Security Project; board member, Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Washington, D.C.; married

“I spent the first nine months of my tour as the acting major of the Al-Wahda and Al-Riyadh neighborhoods of Baghdad—about 300,000 Iraqis. I oversaw $5.5 million in reconstruction funds for schools and hospitals, handled community relations and served as liaison between the Army and the neighborhood. This gave me a front-row seat to observe Iraq’s slide into chaos. I went from having dinner at Iraqi colleagues’ houses to it being too dangerous to visit.”

“I spent my last three months in Iraq in a place called the ‘Triangle of Death.’ Our assignment there was almost entirely combat-oriented, dealing with the first Mahdi Army uprising and a simultaneous surge in the Sunni-led insurgency based in Fallujah.”

“We all made a tremendous number of mistakes. In wartime you have to make a decision in the absence of information based on gut judgment many times a day. You don’t have time to ruminate on the call. You have to move on to the next thing and try to learn what you can in the process. It’s a big transition if you’ve spent the four years before that thinking deeply about things. Some of the best leaders I saw were people without fancy educational pedigrees who knew how to make things happen.”

“Just before my second deployment I went on very short notice from working for a two-star general in Italy, looking at how to get Afghan commerce going, to serving as a platoon leader in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in a rough part of Afghanistan called Kunar Province. The Army jokingly called it the ‘Afghanistan of Afghanistan.’ Sebastian Junger covered it in <em>Restrepo</em> a couple of years later. Working in that remote area on the Afghan-Pakistan border, we found ourselves negotiating agreements between rival warlords and smugglers and tribes, all the while doing a lot of fighting.”

“I’ve always had kind of a confrontational attitude toward things I’m afraid of. I’m grateful to Dartmouth’s Mountaineering Club. I grew up afraid of heights, then I became a paratrooper. The summer after freshman year I went to jump school, then Freddie Wilkinson ’02 and I climbed El Capitan and spent five days living on a cliff face. Doing that was a seminar in how to compartmentalize.”

 

Capt. Mark Hill Jr. ’00
Army National Guard: June 2001-present
Iraq/Kuwait: 2008 (Bronze Star, Army Achievement and other awards)
At Dartmouth: Economics major; Bait & Bullet; crew
Now: Director of Mid-Atlantic operations, DTE Biomass Energy, Ann Arbor, Michigan; married to Anna (Miller) Hill ’99, Th’00

“Freshman trips aren’t too different from an Army road march—but the Army serves MREs, not couscous.”

“After two years in banking I felt I needed a gratifying leadership experience that took me beyond the cubicle. The military offers leadership experience and team building like nothing I’ve gotten in my M.B.A. program or corporate experience.”

“One of the key things I tried to engrain in my soldiers was execution of the counterinsurgency doctrine through respect for the Iraqi people. A firsthand example of our change in attitude was apparent during a mission that had us heading southbound on a large divided highway when a northbound car crossed the median at a high rate of speed. Smoke squealed from the tires as the car crossed 50 yards in front my Humvee, exhibiting the characteristics of a vehicle-borne suicide bomber. I nearly ordered my gunner to open fire on the vehicle, but restrained for a split second as the vehicle turned away and headed south toward my scout vehicle. I saw the turret of my scout vehicle turn to six o’clock and waited with apprehension for shots being fired. Shots weren’t fired—instead a 21-year-old in the gunner’s turret waited a crucial moment to identify who was in the vehicle. The occupants turned out to be a family of five just trying to get by the convoy. The young soldier’s respect for Iraqi lives led him to the courageous choice—which was not to shoot.”

 

Capt. Rollo Begley ’04
Army: June 2004-December 2008
Iraq: August 2006-November 2007
At Dartmouth: Government major; The Dartmouth Review
Now: Seeking work in operations management, Philadelphia; single

“My field artillery basic course was great. It meant going out and making things explode for eight to 10 hours a day—I kept thinking, <em>Where’s the beer?</em>”

“In Iraq I was in charge of a 20-person heavy weapons unit: four Humvees with anti-tank missiles and .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top. We did route security, which meant sitting on a road 12 to 14 hours at a time, bored out of our minds. We also had to meet with local leaders, some of whom were pretty dodgy, to try to figure why there were bombs going off on the roads and try to work out some kind of security arrangements while getting people to do things like build a bridge.”

“I never had a moment where I thought I was done, but my vehicle was struck twice by IEDs, and patrols I led were probably struck 15 or 20 times. When you get hit, your Humvee fills with dust, then you hear a loud noise and think, ‘Oh f***.’ But then you think, ‘Okay, I’m good.’ You check everybody else in the vehicle and say, ‘Okay, it looks like we’re all good.’ Then if you have radio com, you call in to say everybody’s good—and get the hell out of the kill zone.”

“The time management skills I use in business I learned in the Army.”

 

Capt. Welton Chang ’05
Army: ROTC-June 2012, reservist after 2010
Iraq: June 2007-September 2008
At Dartmouth: Government major; Dartmouth Chamber Singers; Dartmouth Free Press
Now: Analyst, U.S. Department of Defense (deployed to Iraq as civilian in 2011), M.A. candidate, Georgetown University security studies program, Washington, D.C.; Truman National Security fellow; married to Meredith Wilson ’07

“I’ll always remember my last meal at Forward Operating Base Sykes. I was with my best friend John and one of our interpreters, Mike, a 20-year-old kid with a commendable command of English. Mike gave us each a big hug before we left and thanked us for taking care of him. We had been working to get Mike a special immigrant visa to the United States. Several months later I got an e-mail from Mike that he was in the United States and was permanently resettled. He told me he was thinking of joining the U.S. Army as an interpreter. Here was someone who was nearly killed by an IED during his service in Iraq. Finally safe, he was thinking about going back as an American soldier. That’s commitment, and a testament to the types of people America attracts.”

“The most important lesson I took away from my time in Iraq was that there really isn’t anything in life that should stress you out. Stress is purely self-imposed.”

“Serving is about a dream. The dream isn’t about money or fame or fortune, it is about opportunity— the opportunity to use your talents for good, in the service of others.”

 

1st Lt. Chris Koppel ’09, Th’10
Army: ROTC-present
Iraq: May-December 2011
At Dartmouth: Engineering major; Chi Gam; swim team
Now: Fire support officer, Fort Hood, Texas; single

“No one ever shot at me, no one ever tried to blow me up. I had one moment where my entire platoon and I were on high alert, thinking that if something was going to happen it was going to happen then, but it never did. You’re lulled into a sense of security unless you’re being hit daily. You start to feel invincible, which is not a good thing.”

“I wouldn’t call my training mentally challenging, although artillery is about calculations. We fire without ever actually seeing the target—we have to predict. There are a lot of calculations involved, but the Army has really simplified it. It wasn’t much compared to what I did in engineering. I was actually very surprised how much my math background helped me.”

“The first time I really had to chew someone out it was, ‘Either we fail or I let this guy know what’s up.’ ”

“I discovered how commonplace it was for Iraqis to lie. For them staying alive and covering up was way more important than honesty. Making up information is considered more honorable than admitting you don’t know. It just made me very distrustful.”

“I think I got more leadership experience in Dartmouth’s ROTC program than even the guys going to West Point. We got a lot of individual attention and I was always pretty much the senior guy.”

 

Capt. Dan Brown ’03
Marine Corps: June 2003-November 2011
Iraq: September 2006-May 2007 and April-November 2008
At Dartmouth: Economics major; AD; rugby
Now: Business development coordinator/economist, Robert D. Niehaus Inc., Santa Barbara, California; married

“Being in the cockpit is somewhat removed from what you see in the movies, which is guys on the ground, right where the action is. We’re looking at it from 200 feet and landing inside the wire. The best description of a combat tour I’ve heard is ‘long periods of boredom with short periods of sheer terror and intense excitement.’”

“I joke that I’ve probably used up seven or eight of my nine lives. The year 2006 was a particularly active time in Iraq to be flying around, and in February 2007 there was a large increase in the insurgents’ ability to shoot down helicopters. There were a couple of situations that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Sometimes you land after a mission and all you can do is laugh about it. I’m happy to be home in one piece.”

“Midway through my second deployment to Iraq, while I was stationed in a remote outpost without a hospital, I experienced intense itching from head to toe that kept me from sleeping and ran me ragged. There was lots of coffee consumed. I didn’t want to leave my squadron early, so it was three and a half months before I found out I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was almost a relief to finally get a diagnosis. When they told me the itching would stop as soon as I started chemo, I said, ‘Awesome, bring it on!’ It was a temporary speed bump. I was anxious to get back to work but medically grounded from flying. I deployed a third time—to Pakistan, Indonesia and Djibouti—on the ground side.”

“The military gives you the ability to function in a dynamic environment. You always prepare and know you’ll have to deviate from your plans. You can get frustrated and hot- headed or keep calm and do something about it.”

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