Student veterans shared their experiences fighting overseas with AU freshmen through a partnership with AU Veterans and the College Writing Program.
The speaker series was linked to the freshman summer reading, “The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel, about the 2-16 infantry’s deployment to Baghdad during the Iraq War.
AU Veterans President John Kamin said many students don’t feel directly affected by the war, even though some AU students have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kamin found out last semester that the freshman summer reading selection would be “The Good Soldiers,” and the group contacted the College Writing Program about bringing student veterans to campus.
AU Veterans brought in 14 student veterans from AU and other universities, including George Washington University and Georgetown University.
Director of College Writing Professor John Hyman agreed to collaborate with AU Veterans because he saw the potential to educate students who may know very little about the Iraq War.
Veteran and GWU student Quintin Steele spoke to Hyman’s class Sept. 22.
“I know AU Vets have felt sometimes that they are separate from other students at AU, and I think they felt thankful about this opportunity,” Hyman said. “And I hope that my students this morning felt gratified in the same way, that they understand that some of their peers are vets.”
Steele shared his experience as a human intelligence collector in a battalion that was stationed on the same base at the same time as the 2-16 infantry featured in “The Good Soldiers.”
Many of the student veterans, including Kamin, were deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008, the time frame in which “The Good Soldiers” is set.
“It’s just kind of our generation,” Kamin said.
Stephanie Van den Berg, Hyman’s student and a freshman in the School of International Service, said meeting a student veteran left her with a better grasp of American soldiers’ role in the conflict in the Middle East.
“There are just so many things we don’t know about our veterans and what they go through,” Van den Berg said.
Kamin found veterans were enthusiastic about sharing their experiences with freshman students.
“On their [veterans’] side, it provides kind of a safe space to self-identify and to talk about something that is really an enormous part of our lives,” Kamin said.
He organized 25 lecture classes and participated as a guest himself, hoping that, through this opportunity, college veterans would establish themselves as equals with their peers.
“At times, it’s a little awkward because I want to show that I’m a student like them,” Steele said.
The veterans weren’t the only ones excited about this experience. Hyman said the interaction between veteran and civilian students was an overwhelming success.
“One teacher said, ‘We actually went overtime and the next class was trying to get in the room,’” Hyman said.
Joe Gruenbaum, a freshman in SIS, said he considers himself up-to-date on the conflict in Iraq, but this experience was eye opening and showed him a completely different aspect of the war.
“It’s those kinds of on-the-ground, up-close and personal accounts of what affects policy that kind of help form a better understanding of policy as a whole,” Gruenbaum said.