Serving in Iraq: Why I Went

May 28, 2008
U.S. Transport Helicopter in Iraq

Those serving in Iraq are often said to be brave. Yet this catchall word does not seem to cover the motivation behind those willing and volunteering to serve. Many Foreign Service officers at the State Department have volunteered to be stationed in Iraq. Given that it is the start of the 2009 Iraq/Afghanistan assignment cycle at the State Department, we thought it would be interesting to hear directly from the officers serving in Iraq as to why they chose this course. We hope that others serving in the region will comment with their own motivations and deliberations.

Steven Buckler served as a Provincial Reconstruction Team leader in Iraq.“This has your name written all over it!” were my spouse’s words when I brought the position description home for PRT leaders in Iraq. But the path to volunteering for Iraq began a number of years ago when a distinguished former senior officer told me there was a time in every career when it was “payback time.” I’ve been very fortunate and the Foreign Service has been a wonderful career and experience for my family and me. The Secretary’s personal appeal in 2006 and my feeling that I and the Senior Foreign Service should lead by example convinced me to volunteer. The prospect of working in the field, at a PRT, in a truly unique situation with great latitude to innovate and lead seemed ideal. And my two children are now young adults, and I hoped as well to encourage in them -- if not now, then later -- to follow a career in public service by taking on an assignment of unusual rigor even this late in my career. My son just enlisted in the Marine Corps...!

Anne Aguilera served as a Senior Human Resources Officer in Iraq. I look on my year in Baghdad as one of the hardest, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I joined the Foreign Service because I wanted to represent my country overseas; I took an oath to be worldwide available and to go where I was needed and to do what was asked of me. I decided to volunteer for service in Iraq because of a sense of duty and because it was – in my opinion – the right thing to do.

It was very, very difficult to leave my young sons and my husband behind. But becoming a Foreign Service Officer was my childhood dream. I have given over 20 years to the Department of State, and I have never regretted my time with the Department. I wanted to be able to give something back to the Service.

While being in Iraq was difficult, it was also rewarding – both personally and professionally. My family and I have become much closer and I appreciate them and our way of life so much more now that I am back. They feel the same way as well. Each day is more precious than the last and I value my family and my country more than ever. From a professional standpoint, being in Iraq was challenging and fast-paced, but it gave me a chance to "shine" and show what I could do as an officer. Immediately after returning from Iraq, I was promoted – not simply because I went to Iraq, but because Iraq gave me the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of diplomacy and to be a pioneer.

Neither my family nor I regret my decision – OUR decision – to volunteer for Iraq. I gave up a year in my children’s lives, but our lives were much more enriched for the sacrifice.

Bruce Andrew, currently a Post Management Officer in Washington, served in Iraq. Before going to Iraq, I'd spent my entire career in safe and comfortable places. But duty called. I felt an urge to accept the challenge of a difficult assignment and was eager to do my part in the noble cause of helping the Iraqis establish a free and just society after 35 years of horrific oppression. Under rocket and mortar fire in Baghdad, my own freedom became more precious. Seeing how our Foreign Service Nationals bore up under extreme danger and wrenching personal loss, I took heart in the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people. For this reason I have great hope for their ultimate success.



Syrian P.
May 29, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

@ Bruce --

"I have great hope for their ultimate success"

And how you define that, the signing of the proposed Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis so they could remain under exclusive U.S. occupation and oil revenue swindled into Dubai eternally. Would be interesting to hear how the U.S. is planning to transform Iraq into Taiwan, or back to Camel and Date kingdom.

eriko nakamura blog
May 29, 2008

Eriko in Japan writes:

i! I am a Japanese. Though I looked for English study in various ways, I commented because contents were interesting. I was able to enjoy it very much. In addition, I come to look. Please keep it for us. Thank you!

United States
May 29, 2008

Trina in the U.S.A. writes:


First, I want to say "Thank You" for your service.

I have been looking into the FSO path and am considering taking the exam. Afghanistan and Iraq have been in my mind first and foremost in considering the FSO exam.

I appreciate the glimpse into your daily lives, careers, and your renewed appreciation of Freedom.

South Korea
May 30, 2008

Chul-hong in South Korea writes:

I understand that U.S. has sought a concrete and visible accomplishment in Iraq conflict rather than North nuclear within the Bush's term.

However, it has't been so easy for U.S. to get a solution in Iraq. Maybe, the next administration will have the burden.

So, instead of Iraq, U.S. has accelerated bilateral talks with North Korea. That try results in affirmative prospect of North nuclear.

Anyway, U.S. achieved half of success. But, U.S. don't have to be dismayed since two problems are so complicate to resolve.

Bruce A.
Virginia, USA
May 30, 2008

DipNote Blogger Bruce Andrew writes:

@ SNP in Syria -- Success in Iraq will be achieved when Iraqis of all backgrounds -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- agree on the laws that govern them, see each other as equals, and deal justly with those who would subvert freedom and the rule of law. Only Iraqis can transform Iraq in this way, hopefully with an assist from coalition forces. The qualities I saw in my Iraqi colleagues in Baghdad and the heartening reports from independent journalists like Michael Yon and Michael Totten about the many wonderful Iraqis they've come to know are the reason I'm optimistic.

New Mexico, USA
May 30, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I guess SNP's still a bit bent out of shape because Syria's oppressive long term occupation of Lebanon got cut short in part by U.S. policy.

But on to the topic at hand, I wonder how you folks at State feel about having helped Iraqi's, with some 5000 years of civilization under their feet, create a free society on the cutting edge of history?

I don't know if anyone's said thanks for serving mankind as well as your country, but that too is well deserved.

Florida, USA
May 30, 2008

Jay in Florida writes:

The whole world should be reminded that during former Secretary Colin Powell's speech to the UN, in the fall of 2003, intelligence agencies showed that there were at least 8 meetings between Al Qaeda and Iraqi agents, 2 weeks before Sept. 11th. Even CBS news announced 1 such meeting in the Philipines. In addition the Senate Intelligence Committee came out with their report last fall that confirmed this; although, they conveniently left out the fact that the meetings were 2 weeks before the attack. The news media has consistently been biased towards the Bush Administration and has failed to rally the people around these facts.


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