Amherst Magazine

Reporting Back

Four alumni who’ve seen combat duty in Iraq returned to Amherst in February. Inside a full Cole Assembly Room, they spoke about the war and the military at a panel dedicated to the memory of Josh Gross ’98. Here is some of what they said:
Military Discussion Panel
Front to back:
Rieckhoff,
Nichols,
Proctor
and Flavin
 

For most Americans, the war in Iraq is “like a TV reality show,” said Paul Rieckhoff ’98, who served in Iraq as a first lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in the U.S. Army. “We’re not a country at war; we’re a military at war.” He founded the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America after seeing friends return from combat with post-traumatic stress and debilitating physical injuries. “We have enough yellow ribbons,” Rieckhoff said. “We need better VA benefits, better mental health counseling.”

Todd Nichols ’99, a U.S. Marine Corps captain who flies attack helicopters, has been to Iraq on three combat tours. He said the military needs people who can make split-second judgments without having all of the information in front of them. “You can’t do it through doctrinal training,” he said. “You have to do it because you’re a leader and a good thinker. And that’s what I think Amherst is all about.”

“Without question,” said Matt Flavin ’02, “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the nation’s best men and women. They’re unfailingly brave and many are astoundingly intelligent. Yet the fact remains that many would not have joined had they been given a different socioeconomic lot in life.” Flavin, a U.S. Navy officer who completed combat deploy­ments to Afghanistan and Iraq, served as director of targeting and intelligence for SEAL Team ONE. He is now in law school at Georgetown.

“I had the somber job of flying the bodies of our fallen comrades out of country,” said Mike Proctor ’02, a captain and an aircraft commander in the U.S. Marine Corps. “We’d fly them from different places in Iraq to Kuwait and do a ceremony as they left the airplane, sending them on their way home. The honor with which all of [them] served is something that can’t be taken lightly.” Proctor flew combat sorties in Iraq. He received a Navy Achievement Medal and five Air Medals for combat flight.