Adam Wagner

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, beginning a bloody and controversial war that lasted until late 2011. The Iraq War took the lives of 4,500 U.S. soldiers and wounded tens of thousands more, in addition to costing American taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. It was the defining political crisis of the first decade of the 21st century, permanently destroying the credibility of the George W. Bush administration and leading to the election of Barack Obama, whose longtime opposition to the war helped him defeat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent weeks, Americans have again heard unsettling news reports from Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has brutally seized control of parts of the country and threatens to overthrow the entire government. As worrisome as this development is, the United States should be cautious in its response.  Another war in Iraq would have serious consequences for our country, especially for our soldiers and veterans here at UT.

In the lead-up to the initial invasion, Bush argued that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the safety of the United States.  For Bush, removing Hussein from power and establishing a democracy in Iraq became critical goals in the War on Terror employed by the United States following the 9-11 attacks. Most Americans initially supported the U.S. invasion, although a vocal minority warned of the difficulty of building a new government and that Iraq could disintegrate into warring factions. U.S. forces quickly toppled Hussein, but American public opinion turned against the war when Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction proved baseless and the occupation of Iraq devolved into a quagmire that lasted years. Finally, after spending great amounts of blood and treasure to help Iraqis build a stable government and combat terrorism, American forces withdrew from the country in late 2011.

Now ISIS is threatening to conquer Iraq. This dangerous prospect results from the failed political leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia who has refused to bring Sunni Muslims into his government. ISIS consists of Sunni militants in both Iraq and Syria determined to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the region. ISIS has taken control of parts of Iraq and viciously executed American-trained Iraqi soldiers. Obama recently sent approximately 300 military advisers to Iraq to aid its military and evacuate Americans from the Baghdad embassy, if needed. However, Obama has vowed not to send combat forces into Iraq at this point.

The president’s cautious response to the crisis has been commendable, but the United States must avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East. It is true that terrorism continues to threaten the safety of Americans, both at home and abroad. We have seen this in Austin. Recently, a UT student and his friend were charged with and pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism. The conquest of Iraq by ISIS would bring immense instability to the region, and the last thing this country needs is to become engaged in another costly war. Adam Wagner, President of the UT Student Veteran Association, served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wagner believes that the United States cannot intervene every time there is a crisis in the country. “We fulfilled our obligations. We should urge the Iraqi Army to take advantage of the skills we taught them. It is up to them.” Wagner maintains that the immense sacrifices paid by American soldiers were worth providing the Iraqi people with freedom they had never experienced. “I strongly believe we did our job.” However, he argues that ultimately the Iraqi people must decide for themselves what type of government they wish to have. The United States has endured over a decade of war since the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Our soldiers have sacrificed endlessly, and many bear terrible injuries that will be with them throughout their lives. American military forces deserve the chance to return to civilian life. The American public is extremely war weary. Polls show that Americans of all political persuasions have no desire to support another war. Those few politicians who pressure the president to use more force in Iraq are the same individuals who relied on flawed information to lead us into war in 2003, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Besides the conflict in Iraq, other problems around the globe persist that require U.S. attention. For months, Russia and Ukraine have remained in a tense standoff.  Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have brought violence to the country with the tacit support of President Vladimir Putin. Recently, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers. Although investigations into the incident continue, evidence suggests Russian rebels perpetrated the tragedy, mistaking the airline for a military plane. The Middle East region has also witnessed renewed problems between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Following the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, Israeli forces responded in kind.  

The United States faces numerous problems at home and abroad. Although our country is indeed the most powerful nation in the world and it must protect its international interests, the U.S. cannot intervene every time a crisis plagues the Middle East, as Wagner reminds us. These countries must determine their own destinies, and American interference can cause further problems for all nations involved.  Our complicated history in Iraq over the past decade makes this fact abundantly clear.

Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs. 

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

For a small population of UT students, campus life comes with several realizations — being the oldest student in class or that, unlike their peers, they are balancing a family life and their studies.

Student veterans share similar backgrounds, having completed their military service and returning to civilian life. But the reintegration process has proven to be an individual experience during which veterans adapt to student life outside of strict schedules and uniforms, facing a range of stereotypes and confronting personal challenges.

“It’s an intersection of being [nontraditional] students, being older and being transfer students,” Jeff Moe, UT’s veterans affairs outreach coordinator and mental health counselor, said. “They have the same issues as other transfer students adjusting to this campus, but many also have families and are trying to balance family life with being a full-time student and, sometimes, trying to maintain a job as well.”

UT’s student veterans are typically older than the average student. Only 11 percent are between the ages of 21 and 24, while more than half are between 25 and 30 years old, according to Student Veterans Services.

For Adam Wagner, a health promotion sophomore and student veteran, interactions with other students are limited because of the few things they have in common.

“Adapting to student life is still difficult because of the disconnect,” Wagner said. “There is a decade of age between me and other students. I’m 32. I am older, and I have a family, and I’m sure they don’t want to hear about my six-year-old’s soccer game.”

The little time Wagner spends on campus outside of class is consumed by working in the Student Veteran Services office.

“I look at [school] differently, I don’t live on campus or around here, so, to me, it’s a job,” Wagner said.

Aside from the age difference, most student veterans also have previous college experience — 99 percent of UT’s student veterans are transfer students and 98 percent transfer from Austin Community College. On average, student veterans have attended more than two colleges or universities before continuing their undergraduate degrees at UT and usually arrive on campus having completed nearly half their required degree hours.

Moe said a majority of the issues student veterans face while reintegrating into their communities are not uncommon issues on a college campus.

“I see a lot of depression and anxiety, but that’s not a whole lot different from other students in general,” Moe said.

Student Veterans Services director Ben Armstrong said some student veterans struggle with lack of structure outside of the military and often take some aspect of military life with them after they leave service.

“They lived a very dogmatic, structured culture, based on heavy enforcement of rules and very parsed out services,” Armstrong said. “We joke that all of us in the military wear clothes very close to drab green, because that’s what our uniform was, and we’re comfortable in that.”

Wagner said the transition from a military routine left him with extra time on his hands, but the laid-back campus atmosphere can, at times, be frustrating.

“You don’t really know what to do,” Wagner said. “You’re so used to having a task that needs to be done by 6 a.m. Now you’re here and there is a lot of sitting around, which is unheard of there.”

Reintegration comes with additional challenges for disabled student veterans whose transition to college life includes physical recovery.

“I’m disabled so I pretty much do what I can then go home and take pain pills,” anthropology junior John Marchi said. “When my school day is over, I’m done. I’m wiped out.”

The reintegration process is different for some female veterans who make up less than one-fifth of UT’s student veteran population, though women make up almost one-third of student veterans nationally.

Nursing sophomore Gabrielle Evans said her reintegration experience was molded by the residual effects of gender discrimination and sexual harassment she faced while in the military.

“I went through a lot of sexual harassment in the military, so I have a really hard time dealing with what happened when I was in the military,” Evans said. “Most of the men will have an easier time adjusting than any woman … because I have a hypersensitivity [to] it, I expect that out of guys and the student population in general.”

Student veterans often encounter a variety of stereotypes, ranging from their political beliefs to mental health.

“You hear ‘sir’ a lot, and it’s out of respect,” Wagner said. “But a lot of times sitting around in classes, I’m starting to get the impression that they think we’re all either crazy, pissed off, disabled and we’re here on benefits.”

Wagner said veterans are often portrayed as broken people who struggle in civilian life.

“I’m a veteran, I’m a strong individual, don’t portray me as weak and being taken advantage of,” Wagner said. “We’re supposed to be labeled as strong individuals to begin with, that’s why we represent the nation in the armed forces. It creates a bad public opinion of a veteran.”

There are some factors to help ease with reintegration. Texas is one of 20 states that provide in-state tuition eligibility to veterans, their spouses and their dependents, regardless of previous residency, making their education more affordable. UT also created the Student Veterans Services office in 2011 to assist students with transitional paper work, combat stress and social isolation, which veterans commonly deal with.

But UT’s student veteran population of about 600 students only makes up a little more than 1 percent of the student population while veterans make up 4 percent of undergraduates and graduates nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Armstrong said the Student Veterans Services office serves as a “safe place” on campus where student veterans can meet “like-minded” individuals, creating a space on campus similar to those for other minority groups.

“We all have similar experience of some sort — if nothing else, every vet had the experience of basic [training], so it’s something to talk about,” Marchi said.

Some veterans say their military experience helps them find areas of interest on campus. For Marchi, learning about foreign cultures in the military lead to his anthropology degree.

“I’m kind of a people watcher,” Marchi said. “Part of that is probably due to the military, you’re kind of taught to pay attention to things, but I’ve taken it somewhere else. I notice little things that other people don’t. When I watch people it’s amusing.”

Though his hostile days of military action are behind him, Marchi said his military service has since changed his perspective, including his view of campus life.

“I get bored really easily now,” Marchi said. “Everything kind of moves slower. If you could imagine colors being washed out and life being that way: [It’s] kind of like that now. I’m constantly looking for something to liven it up.”