When senior Jason Henke served in Iraq, throughout the action he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t scared or even nervous when his platoon would have to fight. To be scared was to have an emotion, and to have any emotion meant he would have to think about it, Henke said.
“You revert back to training,” Henke said. “You know how to react to a situation so you revert back to the training. It doesn’t give much room to think about it until after the fact. You don’t really have time to think about being scared; you don’t really have time to think about being happy. You just react, react, react. I didn’t really feel anything when I was over there until after it happened, whether it be happy or sad or scared or whatever, not until after it happened.”
Henke, 27, was in the army for eight years, having signed up right after high school. He was stationed overseas in Egypt, Kosovo, Kuwait and Iraq. Henke was in Kuwait during November 2002 for a regular deployment mission.
By January, he had been sent to Iraq along with many other branches of the armed forces, as well as other countries’ militaries, for the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003. One very notable thing about war, for Henke, was the fact there usually wasn’t a lot going on.
“Ninty-five percent of what you do in war is boring,” he said. “Five percent is insane chaos. I sat around or drove here or drove to there or sat a check point or sat at a guard tower. It’s one of the most boring things I’ve ever done. However with that said, the five percent of that chaos, the stuff you see on the news, is a small fraction of what happens. But when that small portion happens, it’s ‘oh my God, I have to do my job.’ You can ask a Korean War Vet that, a World War II Vet that, a Vietnam War Vet that, they’ll all say the same thing. The majority of the time, it’s really boring.”
Henke, a political science major, is attending California State University, Northridge. He is a part of the Army Recruit Officer Training Corp (ROTC) program and has grown to like it.
“I enjoy (being in ROTC) now, I used to not because I was prior service and it was a big shell shocker to me,” Henke said. “Being in ROTC and being in the Army are two vastly different things. Being in ROTC is more relaxed, customs and courtesies are out the door. In the army, you stand at attention for officers and salute them all the time. But a lot of these kids are college students playing army, but I think I’m a soldier playing college student.”
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Gasaway is an active-duty instructor with the ROTC program. He has served in the army for 13 years, been to places such as Korea, Bosnia and Kuwait and was deployed in during his first tour in Iraq at the same time that Henke was.
“There are benefits that you don’t get in the civilian world,” he said. “For me it was getting to see different places of the world. That’s what I enjoyed the most. You get to see a different culture and get to interact with different people. It’s things you otherwise wouldn’t get to do.”
While Gasaway served overseas in many different countries, he said serving his two tours in Iraq were different from serving anywhere else. Being stationed in places such as Korea were similar to the states in the fact that he would get up and go to work just like any other regular day. But, he said, being in Iraq was a different story.
“The first time I was there, it was the all-out original combat,” Gasaway said. “But the second time I went back was not the combat we did the first time, it was going back in to try to help rebuild towns, schools and different things like that. There’s not really any way to describe what its like because you train for it and you train for it and then when it happens, it becomes natural.”
Gasaway said that he has gained experience from military training that he could not had if he was not in the Army.
“For me (joining the military) was a big learning experience,” he said. “It more rounded me than I would have gotten had I went to college and went into a job or something like that. I have more leadership and management experience doing what I’ve done with the military than I ever would have in the outside world. In all actuality, I’m a manager. I manage people and I manage resources just like any manager for any corporation would.”
After serving in Iraq at the same time as one of his students, Gasaway said that it wasn’t bizarre to have Henke in his class.
“It’s not really been weird,” he said. “Teaching is something that you do from the time we come into the military. You’re always teaching something, different ways of doing things. It’s like him being one of the guys in my platoon, there is really no difference.”
Even though she was not in the military, junior Yaimondi Lilis worked for the government at the military base in Mannheim, Germany for five years. Lilis joined the same program as her mother, enabling her to work as an overseas hire in the job of her choosing. She began as a dental assistant and then transferred to citing traffic violations to military personnel.
While she is not personally in the military, Lilis’ family has been in the military all of her life. She has had some of the same experiences as those in the military, such as moving, and though many people don’t like moving, Lilis has a different point of view.
“I like (moving),” she said. “I feel like I have a well rounded perception of the world because I’ve been to so many places and seen so many different things. (My favorite place that I lived) is Germany, right now. Just because of how everything is going with the war, and I feel safer.”
From her experience as a dental assistant, Lilis has learned that the military has had mostly had a positive experience on soldiers lives. Though she supports the military, she said she doesn’t feel that she has what it takes to be a good soldier, and after she graduates plans she on going back to work for the government.
“(The government) has some really good benefits,” she said. “I like to travel and I’m used to traveling so I think I need to stay in that environment. There are things about (being in the military) that, me personally, I couldn’t deal with. I wouldn’t be one of those A+ soldiers. For some people its very good and it works for them, but not for me.”
Although he has enjoyed going to CSUN and participating in ROTC, Henke said he is also looking forward to graduating and going back into the Army.
“I am looking forward [to going back to the army], civilian life is very boring to me, very monotonous,” he said. “The army is a very structured life. In college, you have a lot of freedoms, to go to class when you want, to leave class when you want, to not even go to school a whole week if you don’t want to. In the army, if you’re late to formation once you will get in trouble for it. It’s a very structured life, and I enjoy a structured life.”