Alum ends Army service
November 11, 2009 1:31 PM
As SF State alumnus 1st Lt. Willis Su left Iraq, he felt relaxed and relieved. And when his plane landed in Topeka, Kan. on Oct. 4, he felt like he was walking taller.
Su is currently one of thousands of soldiers who has spent some time fighting in Iraq and has now returned home, for good. Through a series of phone and e-mail interviews, Su was able to talk with [X]press about his experiences in Iraq.
Known as "Lt-izzle" by the young soldiers in his brigade, Su spent the last year in western Baghdad, where he led and conducted combat patrols with two to three missions a day during the first six months and working to improve Iraq's civil infrastructure during the last six months.
Su, 32, immigrated to San Francisco from Taiwan with his parents and older sister in 1987. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School and was part of the Outdoor Club, which brought students together to enjoy outdoor activities. Former club adviser and current SF State biology professor Holly Harris remembered him as a good student who got along with everyone and once brought home a reptile from a group camping trip.
Su attended SF State and graduated in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in biology with a concentration in microbiology. Su worked in a laboratory at Genentech, Inc. in South San Francisco as a research associate before joining the Army in 2006.
Su never imagined himself joining the Army before Sept. 11, but he became attached to the news of what was going on in the Middle East and wanted to be involved in national affairs.
He is currently in Fort Riley, Kansas, where his army unit, the 2nd Brigade of 1st Infantry Division, is stationed. In November, he will return to San Francisco to see his family for the first time in over a year. Su plans to leave the Army in January 2010.
[X]press: What did you learn at SF State and how did that help you while you were in the Army?
Willis Su: It was the most fun I had in school, as I had a chance to work with a very cohesive and tight-knit group of people within my major. Working in a small study group within my major helped me the most in terms of adapting to the Army life, since being a soldier and an Army leader is about working with and motivating people to achieve a certain goal.
[X]: How has the war changed your perspective on issues you have faced as a student?
WS: I've come to appreciate the stability that we have in the States and all the institutions that are in place for students to succeed in school, and it is stuff I believe most people take for granted.
[X]: How can students help, other than by just caring about what is going on in the news?
WS: People read a lot about what's going on in the news, but they don't give it a second thought. Students that are genuinely interested in taking action to help can either contact non-governmental organizations to donate aid packages to soldiers, or better yet, they can donate aid packages for our government to donate to the needy in the areas where the soldiers are fighting.
[X]: What did you say to your family when you called them from Iraq?
WS: I'd call my family about every week and I usually ask how everything is at home, and I let them know of any significant events that had occurred to me in the past few days. I felt that it was important for me to be honest with them about my experiences, so that they don't have any false expectations of what I am going through. My parents were worried about my safety, but they understood why I was doing it and they know I have my own goals.
[X]: Were you scared knowing you could die any moment?
WS: I had a few moments when I was scared, a little less scared then most people. I guess it's the kind of thing that we all find out about ourselves when we are actually in that situation. Also, being near a group of capable soldiers that will help each other through anything helps.
[X]: What has been the most rewarding for you as a solider?
WS: The rewards are genuinely too numerous to mention, but first and foremost is to be in the exclusive company of the less than one percent of our country that sacrifices their time and emotions -- and sometimes lives -- for something other than money.
[X]: Is there any memory you have that has been with you since you were in Iraq? Why?
WS: I remember the first attack my section came under. We had suffered some wounded, but I am tremendously glad everyone came home alive. I think about that moment often, and in some ways am still in shock of what happened, and probably always will be. It was the first time I experienced something like that. In the five attacks that happened in my section, I was involved with three of the attacks.
[X]: Do you think U.S. soldiers will ever leave Iraq?
WS: I believe there will always be soldiers in Iraq to defend our diplomatic efforts that are working with the Iraqis. However, I observe that we are withdrawing responsibly at a pace set forth by the Commander in Chief.
[X]: What will you do after you leave the Army?
WS: I may or may not go back to school. But I plan on switching to a career in law enforcement or other similar public services, like being a police officer. And not only to use some of the skills I have gained from the military, but also to continue serving the community in a way that is meaningful to me.
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