- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Lt. Don Gomez, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
I served twice as an enlisted paratrooper in Iraq and it was that experience, of being in a country we knew so little about, which led me to separate from the Army and go to school for Middle East Studies. I studied Arabic in Morocco and Egypt while an undergrad and then went to London for graduate school. I spent a year there interviewing aging Iraqi veterans in seedy London pubs for my graduate dissertation on Iraqi military perceptions of the Iran-Iraq war and the experience of the Iraqi veteran.
I’ve since rejoined the Army and feel much better prepared to be dropped into a foreign country — especially in the Middle East — and “do the right thing.” I make a concerted effort to read the news about Iraq — however dismal — to see what’s going on there precisely because I have spent a significant amount of time on the ground and back home thinking about it. This past year, on my blog which is named after a speech Saddam Hussein gave during the Iran-Iraq War, I’ve been writing about my experience in Iraq in 2003, which has been both rewarding and terribly painful.
And I’m not the only one. A friend of mine who worked on the controversial Human Terrain System left Iraq and got his Ph.D. in Middle East Studies and has recently finished his book, The Death of Mehdi Army. Over the last several years I’ve met many people who have served and have had the same or similar experiences. There have been numerous articles written on the influx of post-9/11 veterans rushing to Middle East studies. FP‘s Marc Lynch wrote about it in 2009, arguing that the influx of post-9/11 veterans may bring more emphasis on Iraq, which has been largely ignored in Middle East Studies.
So while certainly there are those who are done with it and want nothing to do with Iraq, there are others, like myself, who feel more engaged than ever. Whether I like it or not, my existence is forever entwined with Iraq, and I choose not to ignore it.
Lt. Don Gomez is a prior service Army officer currently assigned to Fort Hood, TX. This article represents his personal views and are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.