Conscience and Consequence
Exploring a moral pursuit in a time of war.
By Andrew W.M. Beierle
Like most Americans, Paul Judge ’97 was caught off guard by the events of September 11, 2001. He had begun a new job in a new state only the day before, and he and his wife, Sarah Glanville ’97, had not yet moved into their new home. As American Airlines Flight 11 sliced into the north tower of the World Trade Center, Judge was some 850 miles south, near Savannah, Ga., doing errands related to his relocation.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of crazy,’” he says.
As universally shocking as the events of 9/11 were, they had a far greater and more immediate impact on Judge than on the average American. Judge’s new job was with the Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., where he had been sent to train for a six-month rotation to Kuwait as part of a cooperative security mission. After hearing the news bulletin, Judge instinctively returned to his base office, where he and his superior officer monitored accounts of additional attacks: United 175. American 77. United 93.
“Then the phone rang,” Judge recalls. “They told us to lock down everything, to draw whatever ammo we had and to be ready for we didn’t know what. I’m not sure how quickly the rest of the nation made the transition to ‘We’re now at war,’ but I can tell you that for us it was about 30 minutes from ‘This is crazy! What’s going on?’ to ‘Get your guns. Something’s not right here.’”
Eight years earlier, when Judge enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as a Bucknell freshman, he did not anticipate a lengthy or particularly challenging military career. Although it was not his only motivation, he saw his participation in the ROTC program largely as a way to help pay for college and to further his career goals.
“I was a civil engineering student, and I always saw myself going into construction management,” he says. “I knew I would get a technical background from Bucknell, but ROTC would give me the leadership and management skills I would need to work with people.”
Called to active duty immediately after graduation, Judge deployed to Bosnia in the spring of 1998 as a scout platoon leader responsible for ensuring the stipulations of the Dayton Peace Accords were being observed.
“While in retrospect it was not a dangerous environment, we still went out on patrol wearing Kevlar and body armor, in up-armored vehicles, with weapons locked and loaded,” he says.
After a three-month tour, Judge returned with his unit to their base in Louisiana.
“If you asked me at the time, I would have told you I was doing my three years and getting out,” Judge says. “But after the deployment and a couple of jobs, I decided I wanted to be a company commander, which is a big benchmark for Army officers. I thought I would do that and then get out after maybe five, six years. But after 9/11, any thoughts of, ‘Well, I’m just going to do my time and get out’ were gone. Being in the Army took on a whole new meaning.
“Before September 11, our training was basically ‘conceptual’: ‘One day you might go to war.’ Afterward, our training became a lot more focused because we had a specific enemy we were preparing to fight. This wasn’t training for training’s sake. We were now going to a place where people were going to try to kill us, and we needed to be able to defend ourselves. We matured very quickly.”
The current occupation of Iraq is the most prolonged American military engagement abroad since the Vietnam War, and its consequences have prompted a national debate of an intensity unknown since that divisive era. On college and university campuses, one aspect of that conversation focuses on the role and value of scholar-soldiers, among them those, like Paul Judge, commissioned annually by Bucknell’s ROTC program.
While views are moderating, the perception that the values of the Army are inconsistent with those of the academy, birthed in the heat of antiwar protests of the late 1960s and early ’70s, still dogs today’s ROTC programs. ROTC students at Columbia University, where the program was banned in 1969, still must travel to Fordham University in the Bronx for their military studies.
On the other hand, administrators at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University have welcomed returning veterans to campus via the Military Veterans Endowed Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid for up to 10 former active duty service members annually. And the Wesleyan student newspaper, the Argus, proposedthat “students view the recipients of these veterans’ scholarships as scholars, not just soldiers.”
While total numbers remain relatively small, overall enrollment in Bucknell’s ROTC program is expected to rise as much as 66 percent in the fall with the arrival of the Class of 2013, the largest Bucknell scholarship class since at least 1993, according to Director of Officer Education Lt. Col. Bob Oreskovic. He’s not certain what impact the nation’s war status has had on recruitment efforts or what else may be responsible for the increase. Funding for generous ROTC scholarships is plentiful, he says, but that alone does not explain the rising numbers.
“What amazes me is that I don’t have 20 students outside my door every day applying for a scholarship,” Oreskovic says. “The product we offer is valuable whether we are a nation at war or at peace, whether students are on scholarship or not.”
Those who share a connection through the Bison Battalion, a consortium of ROTC units from Bucknell and neighboring colleges, are linked not only by experiences common to all students — academics, athletics, social and fraternal organizations — but also by the traditional values of military service: duty, honor, country.
“Cadets come with values. We don’t have to instill them,” Oreskovic says. “They want to serve their country and they know that ‘giving back’ is more than just donating blood every six months.”
For Katie Urosevich ’07, military service is a family affair. Her father, William, is a retired Army colonel, and her older brother, Alex, a Lycoming College graduate who trained in her ROTC unit, now awaits a promotion to captain and deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“It was never something my dad said we had to do,” Urosevich says, “but he would talk to us like we would serve, because it’s such a great thing to do.”
Urosevich says that individual members of the Bucknell community reacted differently to her enlisting. Dean of Engineering, Jim Orbison ’75 was among those who expressed admiration for her decision. Orbison’s oldest son, Ryan ’07, a former member of the Bison Battalion, is now on active duty as an officer with the Army’s First Infantry Division and scheduled for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan later this year.
“I have a high regard for people, including students, who serve others, individually or as a society,” Orbison says. “The young men and women who choose to enter the military, and especially those who enter a service that may well result in their deployment into armed conflict, are brave. Those young men and women are quite literally willing to risk their lives to serve and protect others. Even if they never experience combat, military life is demanding physically, mentally and emotionally, the compensation is minimal, and the knowledge that they may ‘go in harm’s way’ is always with them.
“Reasonable people can agree or disagree with our presence in a given armed conflict; regardless, our military personnel whose lives are at risk in that conflict deserve our support.”
Of his own son’s choice, Orbison says, “As his father, yes, I worry about his safety now and will worry far more when he is deployed. But the choice of entering the military was his to make; I respect that choice, and I am exceedingly proud of him.”
Conversely, Urosevich says, some on campus questioned her decision. “People think that a military career is your Plan B. But that’s the opposite of what it really is. Bucknell (ROTC) was a stepping stone to go to my Plan A.”
For his part, Oreskovic takes an approach that tries to mediate the two potentially contradictory ethos. “I’d rather someone take a class in Latin than in American military history, because they are going to get the military side of their education later, on active duty,” he says. “What we need are well-rounded individuals who can make thoughtful decisions.”
Paul Judge has served three tours of duty in Iraq. He achieved his goal of becoming a company commander before separating from the Army in August 2008 with the rank of major. His service in Iraq parallels three distinct phases of the conflict: the 2003 invasion, the unfolding of the Iraqi insurgency in 2005 and, most recently, the surge to help bring American involvement in Iraq to a culmination.
His first deployment, initially envisioned as a six-month mission to Kuwait, came a year to the day after the events of 9/11. Shortly thereafter, United Nations inspectors began the push to investigate whether weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq. By early 2003, the buildup of combat forces in Kuwait made clear to Judge that an invasion of Iraq was imminent.
“We were in the next phase,” he says. “And as it became obvious that we were going to war, we knew the only way home for us was through Baghdad.”
Judge crossed the border from Kuwait to Iraq in March 2003, traveling north toward Baghdad west of the Euphrates River. Judge rolled in to central Baghdad on April 11, two days after jubilant Iraqis brought down the statue of Saddam Hussein at Firdos Square.
“The regime was toppled. We had won. We were high-fiving on the objective. Someone else was supposed to be worried about the next phase of the operation. We all expected that somebody, somewhere, had the Iraqi version of the Marshall Plan.”
It became clear to Judge during his second deployment that no such plan existed. He returned to Iraq as a company commander in January 2005 to conduct operations, which involved not only capturing insurgents but strengthening Iraqi Security Forces and empowering local civic leaders. During his third deployment, in January 2007 with the 82nd Airborne, his frustration level increased.
“It started to wear on me just a bit, because at that point everyone was talking about getting out. I didn’t want to get out of Iraq because we were losing soldiers; I wanted to get out because we’d done what we could do there. We’d set them up as best we can. It is time for us to move on.”
At the end of that 15-month tour, he decided to resign his commission, although he continues to serve as an operations officer at the Vermont National Guard Regional Training Institute, where he offers Afghanistan-bound troops the benefits of his combat experience.
“After three tours, I figured any commitment that I had to the service of the nation had probably been fulfilled. If the nation calls, and there is an emergency and people are needed, I’ll be there. But right now, I am hoping to spend a little time with my family.”
Consistent with their lives as scholar-soldiers, Bucknell alumni serving in the military also express both pride and concern about U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What’s done is done,” says Major Christopher Whelan ’95, who served in Iraq from 2007–08. “We took action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once we started that, we set our course. In my opinion (and my opinion only), that put a moral obligation on our nation not to leave these countries until they were in a position to manage their own affairs with a stable government, democracy or not. Therefore, I think that the State Department, in conjunction with the Armed Forces, should remain in Iraq and Afghanistan until such time as they have that stable government. However, we should only be present in a sovereign foreign nation with their consent, so continuous work must be done at the executive level to ensure that our presence is warranted and desired by that nation.”
Major David Humphreys ’96 served 10 years in the Marine Corps. As a helicopter gunship pilot, he played an intimate role in the invasion of Iraq. “We all felt a great deal of pride participating in such a historic event and, with what we knew at the time, felt we were helping to protect our country,” he says. “We also were comforted by the looks of pure joy on the faces of the Iraqi people, who greeted us then as liberators.”
Humphreys left the Marine Corps in 2006 and recently returned from a year in Afghanistan as a Foreign Service Officer. “During my time in the Marine Corps, I saw first hand the outcome of failed diplomacy,” he says. “I felt I could take that experience and possibly prevent some of the horrors we had experienced. This was a difficult transition for me, and I felt a lot of guilt for having left my Marines. Most of my friends had returned to Iraq, and some did not come home.”
During his tour in Afghanistan, Humphreys worked with the military’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams, assessing project requirements and their effects, and interacting with provincial and tribal leadership. “I was amazed at the primitive, yet deep culture of the Afghan people,” he says. “Many of the young Afghans I worked with took enormous risk to do their part to end the violence that grew in my year there. Although it’s clear that much work remains, I’m proud of our successes and humbled by the amazing work being done by Americans so far from home in what I feel has become another forgotten war.”
Matthew Bogdanos ’80, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and New York City homicide prosecutor, received a Bronze Star for counter-terrorist actions with the Marines in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 and a National Humanities Medal for later tracking and recovering treasure stolen from Iraq’s national museum. Author of Thieves of Baghdad, he warns that a failure to reconcile the military and civilian worlds will lead to calamity.
“If we limit the honor and physical courage of the warrior ideal to an isolated subculture of military, police and firefighters, focusing entirely on those virtues, we risk cultivating doers less tolerant of different lifestyles or ways of thinking,” Bogdanos wrote in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post. “If, on the other hand, we limit aesthetic appreciation to the world of academics and economic elites, never encouraging them to roll up their own sleeves, we risk fostering thinkers great on nuance, but subject to paralysis by analysis.”
Oreskovic believes this soldier-scholar model has great value, that the ability to reason out complex decisions makes for better soldiers. But even in the Army there sometimes is an antipathy toward soldiers who are perceived as being too scholarly. “It’s difficult in Army culture to balance the scholar-soldier ideal and even more so in a time of war,” says Major John Richards ’95, a civil engineering major currently stationed at Camp Taji, Iraq, who earned master’s degrees in engineering management and civil engineering while serving in the Army.
“Those who are not as scholarly often do not view those who pursue scholarly activities highly, regarding them as weak or not warrior-like,” he says. “My hope is that recent events and examples of the leaders who have succeeded show the value and importance of being a scholar-soldier. The complexity of today’s operating environment and the challenges before us of not only fighting an insurgency but also establishing essential services, such as water, sewer and electricity, governance and commerce, demand a leader who possesses a broad knowledge beyond the art of war. To me, this validates the scholar-soldier model.”
Andrew W. M. Beierle is the former editor of Emory Magazine and an author, most recently, of the novel First Person Plural.