Call Of Duty (part 3)

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

1st Lt. Chris Farmer ’08
Army: April 2009-present
Afghanistan: November 2010- February 2011
At Dartmouth: Environmental studies major; Woodsmen’s Team, Cabin & Trail, Mountaineering Club
Now: Infantry officer, Fort Campbell, Kentucky; married to Maria Alejandra “Alix” Perez Farmer ’10

“I decided to join the Army in part because my brother, who was commissioned out of Lehigh in 2002, provided an example of service to country—and because I wanted to do something different. Dartmouth students are known for doing crazy, unconventional things, and in a population like Dartmouth’s the military seemed to qualify. Having spent the summer after my junior year working for the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center I also wanted to do something outside.”

“I wasn’t ready for graduate school. I wanted to find something in a professional field. Ecology fieldwork was cool but equivalent to a summer job as opposed to being a platoon leader in charge of 40 people and having a mission set—it was a jump in the order of magnitude.”

“The military is run by civilians for a very good reason—so they can decide what’s in the best interest of the country. That happens at a strategic level. I do keep abreast of that, but I’m focused on the tactical and operation levels.”

 

Capt. Jamie Ermarth ’04
Army: ROTC-March 2008
Iraq: September 2005-September 2006
At Dartmouth: Government major
Now: Foreign affairs officer, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.; married

“On my first day in charge of my platoon in combat, my unit received orders to conduct a raid. Like many junior officers I was naturally nervous about the prospect of having to make a hasty, on-the-spot determination of whether the insurgents we sought posed an immediate threat. I went to my commander with my concerns and, after reviewing the rules of engagement with me, he scolded me for voicing my concerns during the mission briefing. He reminded me that although it was acceptable to discuss my worries with him or my peers in private, my public admission of anxiety merely undercut soldiers’ confidence in my leadership and their professional instincts. Although the mission came off without incident, the experience taught me to trust my soldiers and leaders and to maintain poise in challenging situations. We detained the insurgents without anyone getting hurt.”

“Four other people from my officer basic course were from the Ivy League, and I encountered others during my four years of service. As Ivy League veterans we are sometimes too quick to congratulate ourselves for volunteering to serve. It is only since Vietnam that Dartmouth vets have become a rare species.”

 

Capt. Declan Lynch ’03
Marine Corps: September 2003-July 2009
Iraq: February-September 2005 (multiple Navy and Marine Corps commendations and medals)
At Dartmouth: Geography major; AD; soccer
Now: Lead associate, Booz Allen Hamilton, Arlington, Virginia; single

“I was with the soccer team on 9/11. I had just become a U.S. citizen, so American ideals were pretty fresh and vivid. We were getting ready to go out for preseason training when we learned of the attacks. Everyone was kind of in shock. I remember looking around the locker room and thinking, ‘Wow. We are fortunate. We really have the ability to go and do whatever we want in our lives.’ Up until that point the question for me had always been: ‘Why would I join the military?’ On that day the question changed to: ‘Why would I not?’ The reasons I’d had for not joining were selfish and focused on not being put in harm’s way. Those reasons didn’t make sense to me anymore when Americans were on the march to Baghdad.”

“The biggest surprise I had was realizing when I was deployed in an emotionally fatiguing, physically fatiguing, all-encompassing environment, I could feel like I had some element of control. I was able to make decisions, to assess risks and to dictate the route of my convoys. I was able to influence my surroundings. My parents and friends didn’t have the same sense of control. They had a fear that was far greater than my own. They were helpless, just waiting for me to call, waiting for something on the news. Being in the heat, the way your muscles and your body are put in situations, I had trained for that. But the thing I hadn’t trained for was how emotionally challenging it would be for people back home.”

“As a leader, communication is key to keeping everyone on the same page. All of your actions need to be made with the understanding that everyone is looking at you to gauge how you will respond.”

 

Capt. Jason Hartwig ’06
Army: ROTC-November 2011
Iraq: March 2008-March 2009
Afghanistan: July 2010-July 2011
At Dartmouth: History major; Sig Ep
Now: Pursuing a career in international development, Washington, D.C.; single

“After focusing on cultural interaction in an academic setting, I could apply a greater historical perspective to the Middle East and my own struggles at the local level. This enabled me to bridge cultural and historical differences between my soldiers and the populace we were tasked with securing. These understandings at the local level rarely receive attention but are crucial to developing the relationships that foster success in counterinsurgency.”

“My service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom taught me the limits of military force within today’s world and the fleeting nature of success. The asymmetric challenge of conflict negates many of the strengths of our conventional army and requires creative leadership at the junior level to achieve any degree of military success. That success proved difficult to sustain in the absence of political and economic stability.”

“Sitting down with Iraqis in their homes meant that the Iraqis learned my primary objective was to go home alive, and I learned that Iraqis were far more interested in electricity and security than democracy.”

 

Lt. Col. Scott Jeffress ’90
Army: ROTC-June 2012
Iraq: August 2006-October 2007
At Dartmouth: History major; Sig Ep; cross country/track and field
Now: Director, Roan Scholars Leadership Program, East Tennessee State University (ETSU); married to Barbara (Lucas) Jeffress ’93; father of three

“In our brigade’s 15 months in Iraq it was nice to see the changes that occurred. Suddenly people could walk through markets safely; little kids could go to school.”

“As a signal officer you never get comfortable in a combat environment because any time communications go down, people’s lives can be at stake. Every day had some level of stress, but we were able to sustain some high reliability rates—some of our techniques and solutions to problems really had an impact for soldiers.”

“Up until my final term at Dartmouth I planned to serve in the Army Reserve. Then I found out I’d been selected for active duty as a Signal Corps officer—not a welcome surprise, primarily because I didn’t have much of a feel for what being an Army officer would mean. Little did I realize how much I would enjoy my 22 years.”

“I came to realize it’s all about leadership, which comes down to solving problems and taking care of people. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a team, and the Army is one of the largest and most amazing teams you’re going to find.”

“Seeing ROTC cadets go through a four-year leadership program and the transformations that take place in them is really neat. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity, commanding cadets in my previous job at ETSU, to do for them what was done for me when I went through the program.”

 

Brig. Gen. Burke Whitman ’78
Marine Corps: September 1985-present, active and reserve
Iraq: February-April 2003 and April-October 2005
Afghanistan: May 2009-April 2010
At Dartmouth: History major; rugby; DOC
Now: Full-time brigadier general since July 1; homes in Boston, Washington, Atlanta; single

“My most recent decision to leave my corporate CEO responsibilities with Health Management Associates was driven by the magnitude of what I was being asked to do for the country. In 2008 I was the only Marine and only reservist on the Middle East team advising the incoming presidential team on what we needed to do in the greater Middle East—whether and how to ramp down our activity in Iraq, whether and how to ramp up our activity in Afghanistan, and a number of other very thorny issues.”

“I went to Afghanistan with the Marine Expeditionary Brigade to direct the combat operations and development of the Afghan forces partnered with us in Helmand Province. After that I had planned and expected to return to my civilian pursuits, but upon our return from Afghanistan to North Carolina—while we still had Afghan sand in our boots—the Marine Corps called again to say, ‘Now we’d like you to command one of our nine regiments.’ ”

“I live to serve. I like to lead. On these two great motivators hang all the direction and major decisions of my life.”

“Some people may think that military leadership is of a particular style. In fact, the styles of leadership in military service are every bit as diverse as the styles of leadership in corporate or other civilian service settings. There are quiet and loud ways. There are direct and indirect ways. There are positive and negative reinforcements. Regardless of style, those with effective military leadership experience can and usually do thrive particularly well in corporate and other civilian organizational environments.”

 

Capt. Kevin Reavey ’02
Army Reserve: August 2003-present
Iraq: November 2010-October 2011
At Dartmouth: Religion major; AD; rugby
Now: Vice president, CBRE Inc., Atlanta; married to Hamilton (Fryer) Reavey ’01; father of one

“By the time I got to Iraq it was relatively quiet. My unit’s focus was to figure out how to end the war, to deal with logistical and other problems that arose from trying to shut everything down while maintaining a high level of force protection and the maximum flexible posture in case the Iraqi government asked us to stay. We got to a point where we had to stay or go; we wouldn’t be able to turn the whole machine around.”

“When I told my mom I was going to join the Army she freaked out, but not for the reasons you might expect. She was mad I hadn’t decided to join when I was eligible for an ROTC scholarship.”

“There were several hundred active bases when I arrived in Iraq. By the time I left it was down to about 50. With the largest bases still open, the hardest work wasn’t yet done and I was leaving behind something I’d invested a year of my life in. Because of my change in status, I no longer had ‘need to know,’ so I never did find out how a lot of the details worked out and if the plan I handed over to my relief was any good.”

“After dealing with problems that related to the difference between life and death, I had a nice perspective about work. I may have been too unconcerned or aloof at first. I still find that I can go home and realize I can’t do anything to solve a problem until I go back to work the next morning, so I can relax with my wife and daughter.”

“I left a baby and came home to a child with opinions. She knew I was ‘Daddy,’ but it took her awhile to figure out there were things a daddy could do for her. Her level of excitement at my return wasn’t as high as mine.”

“My wife had the tougher job when I was away with her career, a baby and a house to run by herself. She’s a great wife, a wonderful mother and a beautiful person, and I am not just saying that because she told me to.”

 

Col. Jim Bullion ’78, Tu’82
Army: ROTC (1982)-July 2012, active and reserve
Iraq: April 2003-July 2004 and October 2004-July 2005
At Dartmouth: Economics/government major; Harold Parmington Foundation; wrestling, track and field, rugby, crew
Now: Director, Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, Department of Defense, Washington, D.C.; married to Ellen (Conti) Bullion, Tu’82; father of four

“When I came back from my first tour in Iraq, after 15 months, I shot a note to Gen. Petraeus letting him know I enjoyed working for him. He immediately responded, ‘That’s great. When are you coming back?’ I went back in what was then called the Multi-National Security Transition Command as his operations and plans officer. The focus was to rebuild the Iraqi military and police forces, so we were coordinating everything from recruiting to equipping to training and deploying the Iraqi forces all over Iraq. Working in Kurdistan, we tried to convince the Kurds they would be much better off staying as part of Iraq rather than trying to split off. They’ve realized over time that staying is a good thing, so that’s worked out well.”

“Petraeus is a unique individual—a brilliant guy who’s very committed to making the world a better place. I went to visit him after Jim Kim was named president of the World Bank to ask if he’d throw his hat in the ring for the presidency of Dartmouth, but he said he was having too much fun at the CIA.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic about Afghanistan. The Afghans are experiencing opportunities to live their own lives and build a country they haven’t had for decades. They’re not going to go backward.”

 

Staff Sgt. Mike Lauria ’05
Air Force: July 2005-July 2011
Iraq: June-November 2009
At Dartmouth: Biophysical chemistry/Spanish major; ski patrol
Now: Instructor, Tier 1 Group, Memphis, Tennessee; married

“The ski patrol gave me my first emergency medical course. Then came the Hanover fire department EMT training. When I was thinking of what to do after graduation, my training officer told me if I liked technical rescue stuff I should check out this special ops unit in the Air Force. After researching it I realized how cool it was. I went to jump school, the military free-fall parachutist course, combat dive school, survival, evasion resistance and escape training, then medical and technical rescue training that covered all kinds of situations.”

“I wasn’t in any amazing battles. I didn’t win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Many of my peers in the special operations community have done far more amazing and dangerous things than I have, but I like to think I helped return some people to their families. I’m proud that I was one of six people in a 72-person class to make it through very rigorous training. And, yes, I’ve had missions rescuing personnel and participating in operations that the public will probably not hear about.”

“There were a number of times where I thought, ‘Wow! I can’t believe I just did that.’ One incident involved a helicopter crash in Iraq that our team responded to. We found that of the 13 people on board we had 11 patients, all severely injured. Over the course of an hour we were able to render care, even extricating one guy by lifting the helicopter off him. It was probably one of my most stressful but most rewarding experiences.”

“I love the teaching I’m doing now, but I’m no longer the guy jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet. Whether I’ll wind up jonesing for more jumping I don’t know. I like to think I’ve had my fun.”

 

Lt. Col. Ted Cooperstein ’84
Army: ROTC (including National Guard service)-present
Iraq/Qatar: Prewar intelligence work, 2002; Amman and Baghdad, January-April 2004, with Department of Justice to establish the Regimes Crimes Liaison Office (numerous awards include Joint Service Commendation Medal)
At Dartmouth: History major; Zeta Psi; Jack-O-LanternThe Dartmouth Review
Now: Assistant U.S. attorney, Fort Pierce, Florida; married; father of two

“When 9/11 happened, I was a sole practitioner and a major in the reserves, focused on intelligence.”

“In late 2001 a former commander requested me to report to MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida. From there I was deployed to Qatar as chief of the intelligence operations and plans section, responsible for daily collection and briefings while we were defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and figuring out where Al Qaeda was going when they fled that country. This was also the time when the CIA was trying to track down Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. We were tracking people who’d gone to Iran, Iraq, Yemen, East Africa and Somalia. I was making trips to Oman, Kuwait and Jordan. In 2003, back to reserve duty in Hawaii, I did intel work that contributed to the capture of the No. 3 Al Qaeda guy, Hambali, now in Gitmo.”

“My life would be entirely different without the military. It has proved invaluable in the exposure it’s given me to people who are now friends and places I wouldn’t otherwise have gone. I even met my wife while deployed to Thailand.”

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