Call of Duty (part 4)

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

Cdr. Louis Tucker ’95
Navy Reserves: September 1996-present, active and inactive (deployed previously, while inactive, as CIA agent)
Afghanistan: June-December 2009
At Dartmouth: History major; Zeta Psi; swim team
Now: CEO, Mission Sync, Mclean, Virginia; married to Jane-Anne (McCoy) Tucker ’95; father of three

“I thought about the military as a child, but my parents convinced me to go to a good school if I wasn’t 100 percent decided. In Baker Library I saw a photo of my grandfather in Navy officer training at Dartmouth as part of the V-12 program during WWII and started thinking about it again. I wanted to do the most challenging service, and I was a swimmer, so the SEALS made sense.”

“SEAL training taught me a lot about willpower: a lot of sharp people who’d been college athletes were there Day One, but only 17 of about 147 were standing there on graduation day. It was more mentally than physically demanding.”

“The SEALS attract some very intense people—some misguided but others committed to doing noble things. For example, my swim buddy is serving a life sentence for a double homicide. He was a guy who got off track, but others are some of the finest men I’ve known.”

“Some people go into the SEAL teams because they want the violence. I wanted to know how to act and operate when violence occurred. It’s a nuanced perspective.”

“A SEAL officer’s field time is limited before promotions take you out of the field. I had to leave active duty for the CIA to get back into the war. When that’s what you’ve been trained for, that’s what you want to do.”

“I’m impressed by how the country and the government now treat the military. I was struck by the difference in the reactions of people to my military service between when I graduated and when I went back for my 10th reunion in 2005.”

“I have a concern if Special Operations forces are relied upon too much. They’re not trained, for example, on how to ship back the thousands of Humvees and all the equipment left behind that you need to win a war. We’ll always need the general purpose military forces.”

 

Lt. Jasmine Gipson ’04, Th’05
U.S. Navy: May 2003-present
Afghanistan: February-November 2008
At Dartmouth: Engineering Sciences major; track and field; WISP
Now: Preparing to volunteer in a mechanical engineering lab at University of California Berkeley following fall medical discharge

“I don’t remember my dreams, but when I stay at friends’ houses overnight they tell me they hear me talking. Once, a Navy friend understood what I was talking about.”

“In Afghanistan I volunteered to advise on construction projects in places no one else wanted to go.”

“I figured death was very random. I was in convoys that stopped unexpectedly when someone realized they’d forgotten something or someone had to pee, and the next convoy pulled around us and hit an IED. I slept in places where rockets landed and didn’t detonate. I just closed my mind to the possibility of something happening, because I couldn’t control it.”

“At one forward operating base we had to walk by a burned out Humvee every day in which five Army soldiers had died. Their convoy had gone to get help because they were under extreme fire and there was no communication to the base. When the others returned they found the Humvee burned. At first they thought no one was inside—then, using cadaver dogs, they found body parts that had been cut into pieces. The officer who’d gone for help was called in for questioning, and they didn’t take his weapon. He killed himself. When they towed the Humvee into the base and left it on display, it never occurred to senior officers how it might affect people who had to see it every day.”

“We called the enemy ‘aggressors’ because it wasn’t just Taliban or Al Qaeda. There were also drug lords angry we were cutting down their poppy fields. There were locals who were angry with villagers for helping Americans. Another female engineer returned to an outpost where she’d made a planning visit for a construction project only weeks before to find that all the children in the village had had their arms cut off in retaliation for their parents working with Americans.”

“Because of medical issues I’ll have a pension for life, but I’m only 29, and I don’t want to stop contributing.”

 

Col. Kristin Ellis ’85
Army: April 1983-April 1985 and January 1989-present
Afghanistan: January-July 2010
At Dartmouth: Geography major, Delta Psi; crew
Now: Chief Information Officer, U.S.  Army Africa, Vicenza, Italy; married; father of four

“My entire tour in Afghanistan was spent on Bagram Airfield. I tell people I don't care what they've heard about the Hindu Kush. Based on my experience, Afghanistan is as flat as a runway.”

“I served in the Joint Operations Center (JOC) for Regional Command East. We were allowed to keep one monitor in the JOC tuned to the Armed Forces Network (AFN). In order to maintain peace and harmony, the TV stayed tuned to AFN Sports. During the Vancouver Winter Olympics AFN Sports was pushing 24-hour coverage from Vancouver, 23 hours of which seemed to be curling. I never expected to become an expert on the strategy of curling while I was in Afghanistan, but war is surreal.”

“As with any office in the Army, ours in Afghanistan was a lot like the comic strip Dilbert. Until it was absolutely nothing like the comic strip Dilbert."

“The barbers who cut my hair on Bagram were contractors from Russia. I served in the Army during the early 1980s at the height of the Soviet offensives in Afghanistan, and if you had told me then that 25 years later I'd be sitting in Afghanistan, listening to Russian pop songs while getting a haircut, I would have advised you to seek psychiatric counseling.”

“In February 2010 in Afghanistan, we responded to the avalanches that struck the southern approach to the Salang tunnel. Despite all the training I’ve received in the Army, I was relatively unprepared to orchestrate an avalanche search and rescue effort. Fortunately, I had the Internet, so I found a couple of Canadian websites with enough information to get us started. In the 1990s the Army ran on coffee, chewing tobacco, and PowerPoint. We've since added Google and energy drinks to that list.”

 

Capt. Rob Dapice ’00
Army: May 2002-April 2007
Iraq: August 2005-November 2006
At Dartmouth: History major; cross-country ski team; cycling team
Now: Construction manager, Concord, New Hampshire; married; father of two

“I find it weird that we’re at war and people don’t talk about it more.”

“When I graduated I wanted to be a professional bicycle racer. I raced for half a year in Belgium and wasn’t making it. I came home, tried to find a job and felt stupid I hadn’t taken better advantage of what Dartmouth had offered. A lot of people went to Army recruiting offices the week after 9/11. I went the week before. I thought it would be an opportunity to do some good and have a job.”

“When I think about Iraq I think of the civilians and what a living hell it was for them. It may have been a dictatorship when we went in, but a lot of people had nice lives, electricity and Ph.Ds.”

“It was an eye opener to be dropped into a society that had been completely torn part. The army had made a lot of strides in terms of counterinsurgency, but there was no way to keep up. It felt really awful we couldn’t do more to keep people safe.”

“Anyone who’s trying to make sense of the whole thing has to struggle with the human and economic costs versus what came out of the war."

“I helped one of our interpreters get a visa and come to Illinois, but that seems like a very small thing. It doesn’t cure my ambivalence about the whole adventure.”

 

1st Lt. Andrew von Kuhn ’09
Marine Corps: September 2009-present
Afghanistan: October 2011-May 2012
At Dartmouth: Religion major; Beta Alpha Omega; football
Now: Executive officer, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; Camp Pendleton, San Clemente, California; engaged to be married

“Having a lot of family on my mother’s side in the service helped make my decision. Whether you agree with the war or not, soldiers, sailors and Marines are going through it. If you can provide leadership that helps them out, you owe it to them.”

“Being tested for the first time in combat means that your reactions really matter—not just for mission accomplishment but also for your Marines. In month two of our deployment three of our vehicles were hit by IEDs. As a platoon commander the biggest point I had to make was to continue to fight, to be sure my Marines still had their heads in the game.”

“A lot of our deployment was focused on the partnership with the Afghan national security forces and realizing that everything we did was either going to enable them to take on security themselves after we leave or hinder progress already made.”

“Locals told us they had a lot more faith in the government of Afghanistan once the Americans were there. When the Russians were there they didn’t have much hope because there wasn’t a focus on the people and building security forces. Even without as much manpower support when we’re gone, the locals will have faith in their own forces due to our joint effort.”

 

Staff Sgt. E. Clark Copelin ’02
U.S. Army: July 2002-May 2009
Iraq: 2006 and 2009
Afghanistan: 2007 and 2008
At Dartmouth: Government major; Psi Upsilon
Now: Pursuing M.B.A. and J.D. degrees from Emory University, Atlanta; single

“I tracked and hunted high value individuals—the guys on the deck of playing cards and their friends.”

“When September 11 happened and there was a lot of talk about the need for Arabic speakers, I thought, ‘I can learn Arabic.’ Joining the Army as an enlisted person gave me that opportunity and enabled me to wipe out my college debt more quickly than if I’d joined as an officer. I meant to do only five years but I went to a really great special mission unit so I re-upped.”

“Arabic is beautiful—deep like the ocean, complicated but paradoxically simple at the same time. Now I use my Arabic helping people do their taxes.”

“I got my assignment because I was weird: I was an enlisted guy who spoke Arabic and had an Ivy League education. Most of the other new guys in the unit started with 10-12 years experience. I never would have got to my unit as an officer, not at such an early stage in my career.”

“When I joined the Army I thought it would help me join the CIA. I wanted to be a case officer. After spending time with CIA officers on my deployments, I decided that road wasn’t for me. I also realized that if I went into the CIA it would be a demotion in terms of authority I was given, which would have been a jagged pill to swallow.”

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class Drew Vera ’01
U.S. Navy: May 2002-May 2006
Iraq: January 2003-August 2003
At Dartmouth: Sociology major; Sig Ep
Now: Plans to attend law school; lives in Norwich, Vermont; single

“I was scared the whole time, which was something I had in common with the people I served with.”

“9/11 was one of those major shifts that occur to which I felt a need to respond. I didn’t go into the military as a career but in the way some people join Americorps or Teach for America.”

“I understood that everyone has a role to play in the Navy: accomplishing the task at hand. My identity as a gay Chicano did not come into play. I was there to get the job done.”

“The lack of people of color in the Navy’s officer ranks means that white sailors are mentored by officers, and sailors of color are mentored by other enlisted sailors.”

“As part of a medical transport team on the USNS Comfort I followed injured Iraqis through our medical system until they left our chain of command. It meant showing them a smiling face and humanizing them even if they may have fought against us. Our name tags had to hidden to avoid any reprisals from those in one faction who might be angry we helping members of another faction.”

“I’m proud that the computer-based patient tracking system we put in place on a ship that hadn’t been used since Desert Storm worked well when the ship was used in Haiti.”

“In part because I was a Dartmouth graduate I gained the respect of senior commanders and was given a lot of responsibility. Other enlisted sailors of color who came from poor communities like I did couldn’t figure out how I managed to get to college. Their choices were gangs, jail or serving in the military.”

 

 

Additional interviews by Hillary Barker ’12 and Welton Chang ’05

Click here to RETURN to part three of Call of Duty

View the slide show here.

 

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