Shocked and Awed at SF State
Veteran of Iraq war surprised over students' anti-US stance
May 7, 2004 3:45 PM
With the end of his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force only a month away, standing on the border of Iraq and Kuwait during the first week of Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn’t exactly where Staff Sgt. Gregory Green thought his military career would climax.
But even so, there he was, in the dead of night, in the freezing cold with his fellow troops of the 820 Security Forces Group and engulfed in a cloud of anticipation so thick you could plow through it with an M1 Abrams tank.
This was the unit’s third day without sleep since leaving their makeshift base at Kuwait City International Airport. At 8 a.m. the next morning they would escort British engineers from the border to a base the U.S. Army had secured 5 miles outside of Al-Nassiriya.
“We got to the border, and that whole night we just froze,” said Green, 24, an engineering major and president of the San Francisco College Republicans (SFCR) at SF State. “And the next morning, we were supposed to be driving in (to Iraq) and no one could sleep. You’re about to go to war and nobody knows what to expect.”
Something else Green didn’t anticipate was the contrast in receptions he’d receive upon his return home. After being greeted with a hero’s welcome at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, he was astonished to discover anti-U.S. sentiment permeating throughout San Francisco.
The overwhelming anti-war overtones Green felt, and at the time, the uncertain future for the School of Engineering made his decision to transfer to the University of Nevada-Reno for the fall 2004 semester that much easier.
But as part of a military convoy of over 400 vehicles in the Middle East desert, sitting in class was two months off and Green plopped in the back of an open-air truck called a “duce and a half” with 11 other soldiers as their unit sped toward Al-Nassiriya.
“That convoy, that was probably the scariest time while I was there. You’re driving, and you don’t know what you’re going to come up to next,” Green said. “Iraqis would drive past the convoy, which was very nerve racking ... Most of these were actually soldiers looking for an easy target they could ambush.”
Iraqi bunkers loomed atop each overpass.
“We were worried someone was going to pop out and throw grenades down on us or someone would pop out with a gun. We didn’t know, and that was the scary part.”
Children running out of bombed buildings in one Iraqi village just across the border were also cause for concern. “They were known to pull out handguns, so we had them in our sights at all times,” Green said. “Unfortunately, one of the convoys right behind us ran one of them over and killed him.”
Men, women and children welcomed the convoy into Al-Nassiriya. His stay lasted a month, taking Green right up to the end of his enlistment. He says his contact with the city's citizenry was minimal once inside the base, but “I saw how they lived, and it’s horrible. I saw a lot of people waving at us, giving thumbs up and peace signs. So to me, that shows their support.”
Green considers being afforded a prompt exit from Iraq a reward for a job well done; his performance earned him a Commendation Medal in outstanding service for setting up the communications networks at the base in Al-Nassiriya.
Now it was back to Moody, a town adorned with yellow ribbons by its residents to show their overwhelming support for the military. But from there he was on his way home to California and felt some unnerving surprises once inside San Francisco.
“My first impression was, "Thank God I’m in this beautiful, awesome city," Green said. “I was so happy. I had worked so hard to get to this point, and now I’m finally here.
“But then as I kept coming to classes and tried to talk to a lot of people, I see all the posters all over and I see the news in San Francisco, I started to realize this city is not supporting me. This is not my city. It was making me sick. It’s still making sick, it makes my head spin.”
He joined SFCR last fall, and has been a welcomed addition to the club.
“No one at this school really knows what’s going on in Iraq,” said SFCR member Shari Oliver, a junior and Chinese/international relations major. “(He) helps promote the other side of the story. He was actually there so it’s like having a primary source.”
Derek Wray, a criminal justice major who will take over as SFCR president once Green transfers, agrees. “No matter how much we read or research the news, actually being there, he gives a totally different perspective,” Wray said. “The stories he’s told me are stuff I’ve never heard before. He’s brought new light on the conflict, to me at least.”
Green admits to a level of naivety with regards to being surprised at the reaction against the war he noticed in San Francisco and especially at SF State. He does not believe diversity in opinion is alive or welcomed on campus.
“At orientation they talked about how important diversity was at this school; diversity meaning acceptance of every point of view,” Green said. “I came to learn that diversity only means what (SF State) wants it to mean. True diversity isn’t happening on this campus, and it’s ridiculous for them to say that it is.”
However, Green is quick to add the San Francisco College Republicans’ recent debate with the Students Against War (SAW) was a step in the right direction. He even admits to agreeing with SAW on a couple of points, most notably its criticism of U.S. support for leaders like Saddam Hussein when it suits national interests, then withdrawing that support when those interests shift.
“It’s a good argument,” Green said, “but that doesn’t justify not doing the right thing now. It doesn’t justify why we shouldn’t fix some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
Green believes it’s impossible to be against the war and support the troops at the same time. He believes people should be able to express their views, but at the same time they need to consider the moral of soldiers serving in combat.
He says opposition at home has a direct correlation to soldiers being killed on the battlefield, so opposition should come in the form of discussions, not marches.
“Military members naturally have strong emotions towards how their fellow countrymen and women feel,” Green said. “If a soldier has any doubt about what they are doing, they will hesitate. It’s our mind’s natural reaction. They will hesitate, and they will die.
“You only have time to react, and that reaction better be the one that saves you and your unit. A sliver of a doubt, created by a soldier seeing a glimpse of some opinion article telling him what he is doing is wrong may be just enough to cause hesitation. If (we) talk, that’s not going to effect the soldier over there, so that’s the best answer.”
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