Students, faculty, staff and members of the local community gathered on the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11 to videoconference with American soldiers who are stationed in Tajil, Iraq.
As the Lehigh contingent watched on a screen set up in 416 Packard, four soldiers—who identified themselves only as Sergeants Suiter, Oheneine, Diaz and Wells—conversed about their typical days in Iraq, how they keep up their morale and what they are looking forward to when they return home.
The videoconference was sponsored by the Global Union
The soldiers agreed that their mission first and foremost is to serve their country and protect American citizens, and that they need to put their work first before anything else.
“It all started after 9/11—we’re not going to back down,” Sgt. Wells, a computer analyst, said. “We’re here to protect America and to make Iraqi society better. It’s all about motivating soldiers. Send us letters, pray for us and motivate us. Every day I wish I could go home, but I can’t. I’m here to do a job.”
Missions can last anywhere from a day to a week, and often occur at night. To compensate, they often spend the day sleeping, if possible. In downtime, the daily life of the soldiers is surprisingly similar to the routines of many back home.
“We go to the gym and hang out with friends,” Sgt. Wells said. “We have a lot of time—sometimes we have a lot of downtime. We come together as a group, we converse, and we talk about home, think about our girlfriends and our wives. We do anything that can keep our motivation up, keep our heads in the game, and motivate each other.”
Food is also strikingly similar.
“There are a variety of types of food, from chicken to lobster to French fries, onion burgers, regular burgers, soda, water, juice,” Sgt. Diaz said.
‘Daddy, hurry up’
The soldiers commented on a variety of subjects, such as how they were surprised by how hot it gets in the Middle East. Temperatures range from about 110 to 115 degrees during the day, and they are fighting in this weather in heavy uniforms. They also humorously agreed that this does not do much to help the smell.
When they return home, the soldiers are looking forward to seeing family most of all.
“I have a 4-year-old son, and he’s very anxious for me to return back home,” Sgt. Diaz said. “Every time I see him he’s like, ‘Daddy, hurry up.’ That’s the joy in my life, and that’s something I can’t wait to go home and see.”
Sgts. Oheneine and Suiter had the same sentiments as Diaz, saying they wanted to see their daughter and wife, respectively.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my 2-year-old daughter,” Oheneine said. “She just started talking, and every time we talk on the phone she’s like ‘Daddy, I love you.’ I just want to see my daughter and talk to her … and I also want to have a cheeseburger.”
However, Sgt. Wells had a bit of a different perspective.
“Well, unfortunately, I don’t fall in the category with these guys. I’m single. I just want to have a party,” he said.
Courtney Molinaro ’07 asked the soldiers if they would want to share stories about what they learned in combat when they returned home, or if they would prefer to avoid the subject. Diaz said he was looking forward to sharing his experiences with the ROTC in his high school. However, Oheneine said there were some subjects that were too horrifying to ever think about again.
“I actually know a man over in Iraq right now, and that’s kind of what led me to ask the question,” Molinaro said. “When he comes back I want to hear about his experiences, and what he thinks about the war and what really happens there, because he’s a primary source. He’s there, he’s a soldier, and he’s dealing with the missions and the effects of the policies that the politicians here are putting in effect. My concern is that I don’t want to bring up bad memories about what he went through. One soldier said he’s seen things he never wants to think about again, and I don’t want bring up any bad memories.”
Lisa Boyd ’10 was the moderator of the event and is the vice president of the Global Union. She stressed the importance of the videoconference, and also deemed it a success.
“It’s especially important with today being 9/11,” she said. “It’s important to make it hit home. There’s a big difference between actually talking to the soldiers on screen and seeing them on the news. It really makes people understand what’s going on better and seeing the truth of it, instead of just what they see on the news. It was a big success, especially with this year seeing a change of ideas, a change in the war.”
The videoconference was made possible through the Freedom Calls Foundation, which was created in 2004 with a mission to build a communications network independent of the military, employing state-of-the-art technology to allow for communications with American troops in the field.