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A Soldiers Story

Being a soldier in college is no easy task. On February 23, 2003, Joshua Jarrell was a senior math major at Auburn University (Auburn, AL). On February 24, 2003, he was an active soldier, putting his life and studies on hold while awaiting deployment to Iraq.

For our generation, the international conflicts resulting from September 11, 2001 have called our student reserves into active duty and may, in the future, affect campus ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) trainees as well. This is the first time since the Vietnam war that our nation's political climate has so directly impacted college campuses, and it's not over.

From January through April of this year, the Pentagon has been working to replace more than 120,000 troops currently serving active duty in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan with Reservists. The Reserves now represent 40 percent of total soldiers serving with more than 190,000 serving around the world. As of June 30, 2004, President Bush called 5,600 more Reserves into Iraq, bringing more students out of the classroom and into a war zone. With rumors of reinstating the draft, the phrase "student soldier" could become much more than just a military buzzword.

The Question Is Why?
For Josh, February 24th marked a turning point, one in which he would go from the comfort of his collegiate lifestyle directly into the heart of poverty, hatred, and violence. The obvious question here is, Why would anyone make that choice? "After September 11th, it was tough to watch everyone else in action and me in college," Josh reflects. "I'm 'Mr. Want to Save the World,' so I was excited at first."

And so Josh's world transformed from a cushy apartment to an electricity--less plastic tent over 130-degree sand. He went from dining halls to MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), wrestling at Auburn to combat training. Along with the rest of the 282nd Quartermaster Company, Josh set out to change the world.

He and his fellow soldiers spent the first 10 weeks of active duty preparing for Iraq in Fort Benning (Columbus, GA). Then, on May 19th, they were deployed to Kuwait; three weeks later, they reached their final post in Iraq.

So instead of writing term papers, Josh found himself writing up a will and death letters [notes to family and friends that are sent in the event of a fatality]. "Being a man of faith, I tried to prepare myself as best I could," he explains.

Like Day and Night
While in Iraq, Josh primarily worked in a vehicle parts shipping yard where he managed the storage/receiving department, matching vehicle parts with packing lists for distribution to other units, a far cry from schoolwork and studying. "It was tough there because the work was so brain dead... my job was to count screws all day."

But outside of the yard, Josh taught remedial math to U.S. soldiers looking to improve their careers both in and outside of the military. He also ran reconnaissance missions to Baghdad, made supply runs, and rotated guard duty with the rest of his Company.

Though Josh was lucky enough to be stationed at a distance from most of the ongoing battles, the road from Kuwait to Baghdad was littered with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) disguised as piles of debris, leaves, even dead animals, as well as throngs of Iraqi citizens waiting to jump supply lines. Josh recalls his first encounter with open hostility and the true evil that is war.

"The difference between Iraq and Kuwait is like night and day," Josh describes. "In Kuwait, we had a Starbucks. In Iraq, there were just mud huts and naked kids."

Reality Check
On the return trip from a reconnaissance mission to Camp Anaconda (located near Balad, Iraq, about 40 miles north of Baghdad), Josh and seven other members of Quartermaster Company 282 encountered hostiles waiting to jump the trucks for weapons and supplies. A child, no older than five, was thrown in front of Josh's truck, a typical diversionary technique used to get trucks to stop long enough to hijack. Knowing he could not stop without endangering all troops aboard the entire convoy, Josh drove on, but panicked at the possibility of killing an innocent child in order to preserve the safety of the troops. He prayed the child would move, he recalls, then closed his eyes and braced himself for the thump. At the last second, the child moved out of the truck's path. "That was the first thing that really messed me up," Josh explains. "I had decided for all practical purposes to run him over. Luckily I didn't.

"I was ready and emotionally prepared to go to war, to possibly kill someone -- a hostile, a man with a gun, maybe even a woman with a gun -- but not a five-year-old kid."

Home Sweet Home
Today Josh is home from active duty, reflecting on the events of the past two years, eating sorely missed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and awaiting fall semester at Auburn.

Upon graduation, hopefully next December, he will apply to M.D./Ph.D. programs throughout the country. He hopes to one day work with prosthetics.

What has he taken away from his experiences? "Humility is a big one. What you don't hear about on the news are the schools and hospitals being rebuilt," he says. "I was reminded of how much this stuff is actually happening."

Josh's time away from home also gave him an appreciation for what he left behind. "It helps you see what makes a difference in your life and what doesn't. I want to interact with people in a much more direct way."

Since his arrival home on May 26, 2004 (six months later than his original projected leave date), Josh has spent time with family and friends and decided to join Big Brothers/Big Sisters as a way of directly connecting with and contributing to his community. "I don't regret doing it," Josh comments, "I was blessed and lucky."