By Sgt. James Kennedy Benjamin, Task Force Danger Public AffairsNovember 16, 2010
BASRA, Iraq - The president of Kansas State University and his staff received the experience of a lifetime when they visited United States Division-South Soldiers in Iraq from November 8 through 11.
Kirk Schulz, the KSU president, and three other members of 'Task Force Wildcats' got to see life through the eyes of deployed Soldiers as they watched USD-S conduct a variety of daily operations, from providing convoy and ground security while visiting Basra University to taking a flight in Blackhawk helicopters to transport Soldiers and assets to their destinations.
"We have done things [here] that I would not have imagined I would have done, from flying in a Blackhawk with the doors open to having an Iraqi meal with a general," Schulz said, recalling highlights of his trip. "It is a unique cultural experience."
Virginia Moxley, dean of the College of Human Ecology, described the trip as remarkable.
"We have had experiences that civilians just don't get," Moxley said.
During their visit, Schulz and his colleagues, Jeff Morris, vice president of Communications and Marketing, Art DeGroat, director of Military Affairs, and Moxley attended several meetings with USD-S leadership, Basra University representatives, Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team members and the Iraqi general who commands the Shalamcha checkpoint on the Iran border.
While in Basra, the 'Wildcats' had lunch with KSU alumni of the 1st Infantry Division and dinner with dual-military couples of the division.
At the dinner, the couples talked about different challenges faced with having a single spouse or both spouses deployed in combat.
"In my college, we study military family issues," Moxley said, "so I especially appreciated all the work that was done to introduce us to married couples in the military."
Part of the discussion will help Moxley provide critical feedback to meet the needs of Soldiers and returning veterans who choose to continue higher education at KSU, she said.
Schulz and Moxley both praised DeGroat as being the 'master' at strengthening relations between KSU and the Big Red One, serving as the liaison between the military and civilian populations.
"He has helped do the translation between university talk and army talk, between university cultures and army cultures," Moxley said.
KSU has always been supportive of Soldiers and their families, Schulz said.
"It is a close and growing relationship," he added.
Not only did the visit strengthen the bond between the 1st Inf. Div. and KSU, but the delegation also got to see part of history during their visit. On the last day, the Wildcats visited the Ziggurat of Ur, which not many foreigners have had the chance to do until the end of the Saddam Hussein regime. After a tour, the Wildcats were loaded on a Blackhawk once again to make their way to Kuwait where they would depart to the U.S.
"This trip could have not been planned better," Moxley said. "I cannot imagine anybody having facilitated civilians this well over three days so that we can see the range of things we have seen."
"I appreciate the complexity of Iraq," Schulz said. "We will leave Iraq with a better understanding and even greater appreciation for the work that Soldiers do."