Back from Iraq

Maurice Curry, senior in hotel, restaurant and institution management on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008. Photo Illustration: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Shing Kai Chan

Maurice Curry, senior in hotel, restaurant and institution management on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008. Photo Illustration: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Sarah Haas –

Before Maurice Curry was deployed to Iraq, he had not encountered a culture like that of the Middle East.

“In training before I arrived overseas, I was taught the basic dos and don’ts of interacting with the culture, but I took extra time to learn [the culture],” said Curry, senior in hotel, restaurant and institution management.

As a high school student in Algona, he enlisted in the Marine Forces Reserve unit based out of Des Moines.

He enlisted before Sept. 11, at a time when the U.S. military had not declared war on Iraq. Curry spent weekends volunteering and saw it as “an opportunity to give back” to his community.

After three semesters at Iowa State, Curry was called to active duty in Iraq.

In June of 2004, he began his adventure. After three months of training in Calif., a flight to Germany and a few days in Kuwait, Curry and the 2nd Battalion 24th Marines, Echo Company, took one of the first flights to Baghdad International Airport in Iraq’s capital city.

“We flew into Baghdad at about 3 or 4 a.m. and they took us to another holding station where we were briefed on the area and what to expect,” Curry said.

His battalion of 1,100 drove 16 miles south to Al Mahmudiyah — their new home for the next nine months, Forward Operating Base St. Michael.

Days were spent walking through the arid desert countryside and two major towns, Al Mahmudiyah and Rasheed. While in Iraq Curry walked more than 1,700 miles.

Curry’s objective was to befriend the Iraqis and arrest “people who were supposedly bomb makers or supplying money to terrorists.” Those arrested were tried in court, he said.

Upon arriving in Al Mahmudiyah, Curry was told by servicemen vacating his new base that citizens of Rasheed were hostile, which made him apprehensive.

“After a week or so we would go a little ways into [Rasheed] and then go back out a couple of times,” Curry said. “We were never really truly shot at by the people, so we took that to mean the people living there were not hostile.”

Although the Marines spent weeks educating its members on proper cultural interaction and basic Arabic, Curry and his section utilized the aid of an interpreter who “made interactions much smoother.”

“The people I met were truly friendly. I compare them to people in rural Iowa where they’re just about willing to do anything for you and would go out the way to do anything for you in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Their hospitality and friendliness was exemplified in their invitations for tea to the Marines.

“Culturally, we were taught that it was disrespectful to turn them down if they offered us tea,” Curry said. “They had a ceremony of serving tea to people. It’s the best tea I’ve ever had, and they serve it in little glasses with saucers and spoons. It’s special.”

Along with his section of 8 to 12 people who took to explore Iraq, Curry continued to meet Iraqis.

“It was kind of like that movie ‘Groundhog Day’ — you wake up every day and it feels the same,”

Some days, however, proved to Curry that his hard work was worthwhile. In January of 2005, the first elections of the Iraqi people post-Saddam Hussein occurred.

“It was just incredible — there are no words to describe what it was like to see those people vote for the first time and actually change their future,” Curry said.

Some days were more mentally challenging than others. In November of 2004, militants from Fallujah fled south after being ordered to evacuate and infiltrated the region where Curry’s battalion was stationed.

“We lost several men over two days. Nobody from my company died, but I had become friends with one of the guys during our training in California. It’s not something you can prepare yourself for,” he said.

In mid-March of 2005, Curry began the long road home, which consists of nearly four weeks of decompression time and relaxation.

After returning gear, seeing doctors and signing paperwork in Calif., Curry and his company flew home to Des Moines International Airport where they were picked up and transported to the Iowa State Fair Grounds where they were reunited with their loved ones.

“The transition period between being over there and being back is the hardest part. When you enter you’re taken from your family and placed with another, and then when you come home you’re taken from your new family,” Curry said. “You become attached to them — they truly are your family — and you feel uprooted.”

In the fall of 2005, Curry reentered school at Iowa State. “It was difficult to come back to campus because a lot of the people I had been around had moved on.”

While he was away, he had missed registration for classes.

“Back then the way the university was set up indicated to me that they weren’t prepared to handle veterans. I had limited resources and felt like there was no direction I could go for help,” he said. “I took that as a personal affront.”

Curry worked with student affairs and the registrar’s office to make the official transition for veterans easier. Three years later, Curry said the university is better able to work with veterans.

Carolyn Nading, assistant registrar in the Office of the Registrar, said they “try to do what we can to help [the student veterans].”

When a student gets activated, the student has the option to alert the Office of the Registrar, which then works with the student to handle class drops and grading, student loans and reentry into school.

“If we know a student has been activated or is on active duty, things will be easier for the veteran,” Nading said.

In addition, Curry’s newfound experiences of life, death and culture gave him a different perspective.

“Students thought things were a big deal, so I would get frustrated because I thought the problem was not that serious,” he said.

He and another student veteran, Anastasia Bodnar, graduate student in agronomy, established ISU Student Veterans of America last spring to provide the kind of camaraderie veterans experienced while serving.