Lessons only veterans can teach

Today, we honor the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who served our nation with valor and distinction. The American military has been an all-volunteer force since the end of the Vietnam War, and men and women have made a deliberate choice to serve our nation. In light of the recent withdrawal of our servicemen and women from Afghanistan, this year seems to be especially solemn. This past week in my War on Terror course, my students heard from two veterans, as well as a recent Afghan escapee. It was powerful for my Senior students to hear these stories and gain a better understanding of the sacrifices made by those serving in our military.

Warren Thomas, a CA parent and veteran
Warren Thomas, a CA parent and veteran

CA parent Warren Thomas has been a longtime guest lecturer to my class. Warren enrolled in the Army when he was 19. He completed Ranger School—a grueling two-month training that is among the toughest in the military. In class, he described the various types of training that he went through and the toll it took on his body. Warren then worked his way through law school while in the Army, eventually serving as a JAG (Judge Advocate General). Along his journey, he served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shared with my students why he was called to serve, and the value it can bring to an individual. As part of his duties as a JAG officer, he would go out on missions and guide soldiers on the rules of engagement and advise his own troops, as well as various operators he might accompany on a mission. He gave the students various scenarios to think about. These helped them understand just how challenging it can be for U.S. soldiers fighting a counter-insurgency among a civilian population.

Retired Sergeant Major Marshall Suetterlin also visited class. He spent most of his 25-year career in Special Operations, which included 15 years in the nation’s premier hostage rescue and counter terrorism force. Marshall served as a K9 handler, assault team leader, and senior leader while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served more than four years of combat operations. Marshall also was the senior enlisted advisor for counter terrorism operations in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. His awards include the Bronze Star for Valor and the Legion of Merit. Marshall talked about the history of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and his years as a Delta operator. He described the unique role the JSOC plays in the War on Terror and some of the challenges his team faced. The students asked great questions about what civilians need to understand about the experience of those who served in combat. It was another powerful talk.

Both veterans reflected on the U.S. decision to pull out of Afghanistan and how poorly it was handled. Marshall noted how the power vacuum created after the American departure from Iraq in 2009 led to the rise of ISIS. Students wondered what will now happen in Afghanistan.The veterans shared that they had lost friends and seen horrible things and felt a sense of sadness that the Taliban have returned to power.


Said F. Maudodi, an Afghan escapee, visited CA and spoke to Dr. Davis's War on Terror class.
Said F. Maudodi, right, an Afghan escapee, visited CA and spoke to Dr. Davis’s War on Terror class.

In an absolutely unique learning opportunity last week, we were fortunate to have Said F. Maudodi, an Afghan escapee who recently arrived in the United States. CA’s own amazing Acker family is sponsoring Said, his wife, and his three girls. Said shared with my students his life story. It included going to work as a 12-year-old, making oriental rugs in India, and earning $80 a month to support his family. He described what it was like when the Taliban left in 2002, and, more solemnly, what it is like now that they are in charge. Said worked his way through flight school, becoming a commercial pilot. He has flown the former Afghan president around the country and even to the United States. As the Taliban closed in, Said flew Americans and Afghans out of the country. When he would land back in Kabul, he noted that the Taliban would film him. He shared with the students the extreme violence of the Taliban, and talked about his fear for his three girls. One day a neighbor said the Taliban were looking for him and he knew he had to leave. The students were transfixed as he described the scene at the airport as the U.S military left his country. He was there when the ISIS suicide bomber killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 Marines.

We tend to think of our servicemen and women as warriors, but it is also important to remember the humanitarian role that our soldiers play abroad and at home. In the midst of the chaos at the Kabul airport, a Marine looked out and helped Said. This Marine recognized Said and brought him safely through the crowds. Then, the Marine helped Said’s family escape a few days later. It was not easy. Said recounted the gunfire and terror that his daughters faced. But, he is so grateful for that Marine and said he is going to find him and then get his name tattooed on his wrist, so he never forgets his compassion. That marine is named Ryan Ash. Wherever you are, Ryan Ash, your story was inspirational and shows the best of America.

And, to demonstrate just how small the world is….There is a great article in the New York Times that spotlights the Marines who were in Kabul rescuing Afghans and Americans trying to get out. In the article entitled Witnesses to the End, Captain Geoff Ball, a CA alumnus from the class of 2006, is interviewed and gives insight into the efforts of American troops. In the interview, he is asked about why he joined the Marines, “…it didn’t feel right having other guys go out and fight, while I just sit at home and benefit from their sacrifice without doing anything myself.” The interview is incredibly compelling, as it describes the ISIS attack that killed 13 Marines and Ball’s role in leading his troops. The article closes with Ball reflecting on the efforts of his company: “The whole world was watching, but the Marines at Abbey Gate, we pulled in 33,000 people, more than any other gate. We stayed open when other gates closed. We should take pride in that.”

I am truly grateful for all three speakers as they shared lessons that only veterans can teach; and I am glad to know that we have CA alumni like Captain Geoff Ball ‘06 making a difference. We also are learning from the Acker family as they support Said and his family, who left everything behind to come here. From spending just a little bit of time with Said, I know he is going to add to our nation.

On behalf of CA, I want to express thanks to all of our veterans and their families. There will be various educational programs throughout Veterans Day as we teach our students about the importance of service and show our gratitude.