The threat of terrorism and the U.S.’s current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were the focuses of a University of Michigan panel held in honor of Veterans Week Wednesday.
The panel, attended by 25 people, allowed for personal interaction between attendees and retired military physicians, professors, ROTC leaders and current graduate students who have served and obtained military titles.
Students on the panel offered personal insight about active duty following the 9/11 attacks and discussed the intricate interactions between the U.S. military and residents of locations still influenced by the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of the panel speakers noted that their opinions reflected only their personal thoughts and were not on behalf of the Department of Defense.
Cpt. Kevin Jones, a Business graduate student, served for six years as an intelligence officer in the Army. He was deployed to both Afghanistan and Kuwait, and emphasized the challenges posed by a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence, during which many soldiers are prompted to search for an end or a purpose.
“From March to July, it was fighting season in Afghanistan,” Jones said. “People would die, and we’d go on a mission to a school. I remember that specific mission because someone lost his legs, and there’s that question of whether we’re making an impact. The challenge there for me is to remind everyone that they’re helping their fellow soldiers, and that is so important.”
The leaders on the panel noted the evolution of violence since 9/11 and the omnipresent level of fear that of terrorism instills in citizens, saying they were prepared to challenge the recent propaganda and lurking attacks as they accept their duty to serve the country.
A panelist who only gave his name as Dennis, and said he was a professor, discussed the nature of several recent terrorist attacks, which he said aim to disrupt Western life and impose fear on massive populations of people. Dennis said he served as a naval aviator during the turbulent politics surrounding the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
He also noted that the unique position of the U.S. military allows for the continuation of normal life at home.
“The fact that we’ve been actively engaged in a war since 2001, I would personally offer is an impact on our own political culture,” he said. “People in the military recognize that existential threat. They see that there are revisionists, revolutionaries, that would like to undo the world ordered the way that we prefer the world ordered.”
Panelists also highlighted the personal motivations behind their decisions to join the military and fight in the war on terror.
Jones said despite the morbidity of war, his father’s words of motivation encouraged him to keep fighting for his country.
“The only thing my father said to me was, ‘Just come home alive,’ ” he said. “ ‘You don’t have to change the whole world. Just come home alive.’ ”
Many in the audience, which largely consisted of ROTC members and veterans, said they were deeply moved by the soldiers’ commitments to the war on terror.
Engineering freshman Cameron Speare, a member of Air Force ROTC, attended the panel out of support for her fellow student soldiers. She said she left with more developed thoughts on the war on terror.
“I’m relatively new to the military lifestyle, and this was definitely eye opening,” Speare said. “I enjoyed listening to their stories, and how it impacted them individually. A lot of people have strong opinions, but not really personal associations with it, like they do.”