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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Five years in Iraq: part two

Editor’s note: This March marks the fifth anniversary of the initial stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While UC Davis lies a world away from Iraq, the events occurring overseas can be felt close to home. In the second half of this two-part series, UC Davis Army ROTC cadets discuss the futures they will face in Iraq.

Cadet Brent Hofmann finds himself inside one of the UC Davis Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps classrooms. The junior geology major sits neatly dressed, donning his military attire, with his hair cut short.

He faces a portrait of President George W. Bush, his commander in chief. The faces of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General George Casey and the rest of the United States’ Department of Defense chain of command flank in lockstep to the left of President Bush.

It will be soldiers like Hofmann, the cadets of the UC Davis ROTC program, who will be tasked with finishing the job that Bush envisioned for the nation.

As Operation Iraqi Freedom reaches its fifth year, military recruiters are finding it tougher to find new soldiers willing to sign up in a state of war.

Hofmann said his parents have mixed emotions regarding their child being sent off to a war they disagree with.

My family does not agree with it, but I tell them it’s my job, Hofmann said. Even if you don’t agree with the war, just keep the soldiers in mind – it’s our job. We are doing what we are told to do.

And to senior cadet Christine Neuman, it seems that those orders were given longer than five years ago.

It seems like a longer time, said Neuman, an international relations major. Looking [back] five years ago, I was in high school. I didn’t know too much about the war in Iraq. It seems like we have come a long way from when I first heard that we were invading.

Along with Neuman and Hofmann, other cadets signed up for ROTC knowing the shadows of deployment into Iraq were inevitable. They had a choice, though, and willingly volunteered to sign up during a time of war anyway.

They will go there, said professor of military science Stephen Heringer, who has been deployed to Iraq twice. It’s a challenge [to get new recruits]. You have to tip your hat to them. Each and every one of them signed on to this program knowing full well what lies ahead of them in two or three years.

Hofmann said the United States has a duty to intervene in other countries – even in a sovereign nation like Iraq – so long as they pose a danger to humanity.

We are one of the superpowers, Hofmann said. It’s not a responsibility, but a duty. That’s the nature of being the big kid…. It is kind of the role the U.S. takes. That is part of the responsibility of being a developed nation. It’s something we have to do to protect our interest and humanity in general.

The Bush administration, however, has acknowledged that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq do not exist, and as plain-clothed citizens, this fact weighs heavily on some cadets.

It changes my opinion in our leadership, said Adan Canales, a junior history major. It was great at the time. It was controversial, but brave at the time. As fighting has escalated, I felt slightly disappointed and that it was more of a mistake…. I hope all soldiers can go home. But if our presence needs to be there on a significant level permanently, so be it.

The cadets unanimously say that the United States needs to finish rebuilding Iraq before leaving. As long as the job is incomplete, they all agree there needs to be an American troop presence in Iraq.

The fact of the matter is we are in Iraq, Neuman said. The public may not agree [with] why we are in Iraq or what the reasons are behind it, but we are there and we can’t just leave. If we pull out, the entire region will collapse. We are there and do what we are told.

The cadets have several years before they could hear word for deployment to Iraq. For now, they study the tactics necessary for such a trip from the classroom. They understand they will go to Iraq, but that fact has not fully set in just yet.

If they told me I was going tomorrow, I would be nervous, Hofmann said. I’d be a little apprehensive. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a job. You don’t want to always treat it like that, but as a second lieutenant, you have to make sure people are being taken care of – people are staying alive.

If you go into a combat zone, you cannot really focus on the fact that it is a dangerous place or the possibility that you might not see your family ever again. You have to treat it as a job and be responsible [and make sure] that people are being taken care of.

In November, a new portrait will replace President Bush’s current one in the ROTC classroom. That new president will take over the job of commander in chief and lead the U.S. military.

As civilians, the cadets will be interested in the outcome.

Being cadets, we have two to three years before we become active duty officers, said junior James Seddio, a managerial economics major. The decisions made by the executive will determine what we do [and if] we continue to stay in Iraq. That will affect our profession and our lives directly.

As soldiers, though, they could not care less who takes over the job of commander in chief.

Their lives are too busy. They have a job to do.

JACKSON YAN can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.


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