News

February 3, 2010

From College Hill to the Diyala Province, Iraq

1st Lt. Dane Hanson ’07 writes about his military experiences and the impact of Lafayette

It has been two-and-a-half years since I walked at graduation. Graduation was a momentous event for us all, as we said goodbye to College Hill Tavern, the Easton Circle, late-night runs to WaWa, dodging parking tickets from campus police, and attending classes. Little did I know what my future would hold other than the fact that I had a week at home before I would begin my military career.

The summer of 2009 was a hot one when we arrived in Iraq. There was plenty of dust to go along with it, frequent power outages, and a battle against the ever-so-persistent flies — a completely different environment than we usually experience, even from training back in the U.S. It was like the first two weeks of college, minus the parties and meeting a heap of people who would become your new set of friends. Instead, it was “here we are and here’s the mission, and here we go.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s rare that you turn on the news to hear about all these great things happening throughout your city, state, country, or around the globe. It doesn’t sell. Until you actually experience them for yourself, you have a completely different perspective. It’s like hearing all these stories from students not to take Professor Sanborn’s class on Russian history because there’s way too much reading and it’s a demanding course. I can say that after the initial “shock and awe” I came to enjoy the class, intrigued by the history. I applied what I learned to Professor Fabian’s class on Eastern Europe and wrote what I consider one of my best works on the final exam.

Good news

Iraq is the same way. You hear a lot of bad news. But in our missions in the Diyala Province, I can truly say that we have had an enormous amount of success in everything we’ve done thus far. When we first arrived, our Soldiers were doing continuous route clearance patrols ahead of combat logistic patrols. We were finding improvised explosive devices (IED’s), occasionally having the IED’s find us, but without any casualties. In our immediate area, we were able to ensure more freedom of movement not only for U.S. forces, but the Iraqi population as a whole.

Due to our success, Bravo Company’s mission changed to building civil capacity. This meant that we would help support other non-engineer units with quality assurance and quality control for construction projects. These projects are contracted to Iraqis, creating employment opportunities, while also providing for a community’s immediate need as determined by the Iraqi government along with the Army and the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s). Bravo Company commander CPT Brandon Bowman’s knowledge as a civil engineer and from previous deployments to Iraq made Bravo Company an ideal unit to lead the way in the changing environment in Iraq. The war was no longer really about kicking in doors and shooting bad guys, but assisting in building a new Iraq and securing the population. In a counterinsurgency fight, the “population is the prize,” and we continue to win over the population with our partnership with Iraqi field engineer regiments, city and local officials, and positive interactions with the general population while being escorted by the Iraqis through cities to project sites.

I can really only discuss what I have seen, but it is by no means all that we have done here. We have emplaced bridges over the Tigris River, built access roads into Iraqi and U.S. bases, and cleared canals to improve irrigation and the population’s ability to satisfy a never-ending need for water, just to name a few projects. I won’t say that Iraq has returned to “normalcy.” Essentially what we have done, but more importantly, now what the Iraqi army, security forces, and police have done, is secure the population and foster a safer environment for business and a better way of life.

Classroom deployment

As Soldiers we join to do all the cool stuff — play with guns, blow stuff up, jump out of airplanes, and more. That really hasn’t been the case in my Iraq experience. Our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Paul Huszar, empowers Soldiers and officers alike through his personal interaction, confidence, and focus on critical thinking and professional development. The last thing I wanted to do when I left college was pick up a book and read. Ironically, that is exactly what Lt. Col. Huszar has us doing on this deployment. Every week we have leadership development meetings and discussions on books, professional articles, and scenarios we face here in Iraq. We don’t take tests or get graded hard like Lafayette students; however, being that Lt. Col. Huszar is always there, well, you don’t want to look stupid.

Looking back, it is so similar to my Lafayette experience. I remember debating in Professor Scott Placke’s debate class, the deep political theory discussions with Professor Helena Silverstein, and the composition of foreign policy and changing environments with Professor Ilan Peleg. While I never received an A in Professor Silverstein’s classes (much to my frustration), I’ve done quite well for myself since then. We never truly stop on the path of learning, at least not those who are successful in any profession, especially the military. I have Lafayette to thank for the thirst to learn and the skills of time management and creative thinking needed to accomplish a variety of tasks and missions, and Lt. Col. Huszar for not letting a quite expensive education go to waste.

In the Lafayette men’s soccer room are signs with the words “Work, Care, and Defend.” There are no secrets to coach Dennis Bohn and the soccer team’s history of success. While I sometimes felt I was more in the Army than playing on a soccer team, the lasting value of the program is much clearer to me now. I’ve applied the lessons learned from Lafayette soccer in my career. Thanks, Coach, for bringing me to Lafayette. I’m sure he remembers this quote that must still get passed around to this day: “Physical fitness precedes mental toughness.” That quote applies to the Army in everything we do. While going through rigorous training and even while we are deployed to Iraq, our physical fitness enables us to stay healthy, work long hours, and when need be, go outside the wire in the desert heat to conduct bridge repairs, look for IED’s, conduct project site visits, and more.

Mentors and friends

I’d like to thank all those who have supported me along the way, including Professor Jim Tiernan, whose thoughts on war in American history are on point and who has shared genuine friendship with me over the years; Professor Donald Miller, for his contributions to military history and that of paratroopers in particular (though he did not give this modern day paratrooper an A); Professor David Shulman, who taught me about relationships and interactions through his Sociology class; Professor Howard Schneiderman, for helping me develop my charisma and for making every subject interesting; the cafeteria workers who prepare the infamous chicken fritter sandwich on Thursdays; Lafayette men’s soccer; the Army ROTC program; Father Charles Norman, for helping me keep the faith; and my family and friends for their love and support. Lafayette means more to me now than it did as a student. The quality education provided by the best professors and the interaction with the diverse views of so many students from different walks of life have greatly impacted my life to this day. I couldn’t have been more prepared for the obstacles I’ve faced nor had the wherewithal to overcome them. All I ask for in 2010 is to be in attendance for a victory over Lehigh!

Dane Hanson ’07 served as a Sapper Platoon Leader and Executive Officer of Bravo Company, 37th Engineer Battalion (Combat, Airborne) out of Ft. Bragg, N.C. He now serves as the 37th Engineer Battalion’s S3 Air Officer. He can be reached at dane.m.hanson@us.army.mil.

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