Only one hand was raised among the many students present when Lieutenant J. David Fleming asked if anyone thought the war in Iraq was a good idea. This led to a heated question-and-answer debate among professor Ralph Young’s teach-in.
Fleming, a lieutenant in the Iraq war, shared his perspective as life as a Marine, as well as some of the details of the past seven months, which he spent in Iraq fighting in the war.
“I entered the Marine Forces at the age of 17 with these images about what combat would be like. It’s funny how naive I was. I came into it, very in love with the romance of it,” Fleming said. “I wanted to kill, I wanted to go to war, I wanted to answer the question ‘do I have what it takes?'”
The question was answered when Fleming enlisted in the Kilo third division, seventh marine regiment, and first marine division, where he was responsible for 35 men who were about 18.
“They looked to me to teach them, to guide them, sometimes to give them advice. In many cases I am more involved in their lives then they’re own family,” said Fleming. “They’re my family.”
All but one of the 35 soldiers under Fleming’s command made it back home alive.
While overseas, Fleming experienced very little warfare in his station in the city of Husseba, west of Iraq. Instead, Fleming focused on stabilizing Husseba and Karbala in terms of local security and forces. It wasn’t until April that Fleming’s unit came under fire.
Fleming was able to add insight into other aspects of a soldier’s life, such as the intense heat of one-hundred twenty degrees that they faced, or the seventy extra pounds that their equipment and gear added.
With little pretense, the floor was then handed over to students in an open question and answer discussion.
Evan Hoffman asked one of the first questions.
“I was just curious about when you referred to doing your job… What did you consider your job to be in March?”
“I’ll tell you what it was,” answered Fleming. “It was do everything in your power to get local security forces up and running.”
Hoffman then asked about the weapons of mass destruction.
“Were you still curious about whether or not you would find weapons of mass destruction,” asked Hoffman, “because there were a lot of rumors going around that you would find them when you went in.”
“The first time round, yes,” said Fleming. “We crossed the border wearing mob suits and gas masks. So when I wasn’t sleeping or cleaning the weapons, I was praying, because it was definitely a concern.”
Terrence Harris asked if there is a lack of weapon supplies.
Fleming said that supplies were short when they initially went in, and they were driving around in Hummers without any armor. However, closer to the end the system was inundated with supplies, and the situation was corrected.
Xandra Kanoff expressed concern about the current number of soldiers and the amount that we need to sign up.
“The same people keep going back and going back, while only a few new people sign up,” Fleming said. “It’s not enough.”
Fleming said that it’s all part of the job.
“If you want to talk about numbers, I was there eight months the first time and seven months the second time. That cycle is going to continue rolling around until a solution is reached. However, you’re in the military, that’s part of your job to load up, go out and deploy.”
Another concern expressed by many students is the usage of the word terrorist and what the connotations are.
“A terrorist is someone who is shooting at me or trying to kill me,” said Fleming. “There is no difference in my language between resistance and a terrorist. They’re synonymous.”
Alex Goldblum asked who the terrorists are.
“Are they Shiite, are they Alkaidi, are they people who can’t live under U.S. regime, or are they freedom fighters? What are they?”
Fleming said they are a little bit of everything.
As for safety, Fleming believes whole-heartedly that the war in Iraq has made the United States safer despite the fact that terrorists and dictators still retain control in other parts of the world.
“I always tell my guys that at least we’re killing them in their streets, not ours.”
As for when the war will be over, Fleming said “Want my forecast… Stand by.”
At next week’s teach-in, Professor David Jacobs will discuss pop culture and politics.
Erin Schlesing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org