Six members of the UC Irvine Student Veterans Union spoke about their experiences in the military, including their deployments to Iraq, in an event hosted by the school of social sciences’ International Studies Public Forum on Thursday, Feb. 28.
Army veterans Ben Mayer, Erik Christensen, Michael Flores and An Hoa Nguyen and Marine Corps veterans Kevin Chiao and Thomas Sim shared their stories with more than 200 members of the UCI community.
Each panelist gave a brief history of his or her time in the service to frame the session. Three such accounts set a somber tone about some of the life experiences manifested in our student body.
‘[W]ar is not really about ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It is really about everyone in the country,’ Flores said.
Flores enlisted in the National Guard and spent a quarter at UCI before being deployed to the Iraq-Kuwait border in September 2006, where he worked controlling detainees.
‘We saw a lot of action over there. I unfortunately lost one of my good friends over there as well,’ Flores said.
Mayer joined the Army Reserve and was activated and deployed to Iraq in October 2005. He spent a year at Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, which according to him was nicknamed ‘Mortaritaville.’
Christiansen enlisted in the army right out of high school. He joined in a legal capacity, working for JAG officers. However, after Sept. 11 he was billeted for the 101st airborne division.
‘We went straight to Iraq,’ Christiansen said. ‘We were the first army unit to cross the border, and even though I was legal, my secondary job skill was military police. I did main supply line security, basically taking bullets for the convoys so nobody else had to. In Fallujah, in 2003, my convoy was ambushed, and a lot of people, including my battalion commander, were killed.’ Christiansen was wounded in the attack and was sent to Germany. After he returned to the United States, Christiansen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and served the remainder of his military term there.
The veterans of the campaign had mixed messages of hope among mismanagement and involvement in Iraq.
‘As much as we don’t like being there, as much as the Iraqis don’t like us being there, they still kind of need us, we are basically their only [form of] security,’ Sim replied. Sim was an aviation ordinance technician in the Marine Corps Reserve.
‘I think we need to be there for the people,’ Christiansen added. ‘I think we need to forget all the rhetoric.