Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2005

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Mission Iraq

Mission Iraq
Sgt. Patrick Romero ´04 met veteran newsman Dan Rather while on assignment in Baghdad.

The lives of two young alumni are bound up with the reconstruction of Iraq: Tim Reuters ´99 at USAID and Sgt. Patrick Romero ´04 on the frontlines.

by Tracy Teare ´87 and Amy Rogers Nazarov ´90


Patrick Romero ´04
On the front lines

When Patrick Romero spent two months after graduation studying Arabic in Morocco last year, little did he know he’d soon be speaking the language every day. Last fall, Romero — a sergeant in the Army Reserves — was called up for active duty and sent to Iraq. Since mid-October, he has been at Joint Command Headquarters Baghdad, where home is a trailer behind Saddam’s Presidential Palace.

Romero’s team works closely with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, coordinating efforts to get the Iraqi military up and running. Though he describes his staff support work as an “office job,” it’s not your typical 9-to-5. His duties also include convey security and HUMVEE missions, which often take him out of the heavily-fortified Green Zone.

Even there, security is precarious. “We go to work carrying weapons, and wearing bullet-proof vests and Kevlar, which weighs about 30 pounds in all. We are constantly under mortar attacks, and there is always the threat of car bombs and small arms fire. Every day there are intelligence reports of new attacks and plans by terrorists. You hear sporadic gunfire just about every night. It becomes a part of life, whereas back home it would cause mayhem.”

Despite the clear danger, Romero remains upbeat. “My time here has been incredible,” he says. “I am fortunate to interact a lot with Iraqi soldiers and civilians. There are many cultural differences, but overall they are extremely hard-working and enthusiastic to learn.”

The January election stands out as a particular high point. “I have never seen so many people so proud to vote for their own representative government,” Romero reports. “The ink marks, used to prevent double-voting, have become a sign of pride with all Iraqis.”

After returning home, Romero plans to continue studying Arabic, apply to law school, and then eventually to the Foreign Service. “I hope to work for the State Department in Middle Eastern Affairs,” he explains. “The region faces serious issues in terms of Islamic militarism, modernization and democracy. I think the U.S. government can do a lot of good in promoting liberal values and it needs individuals with the language skills and the cultural awareness to support this process.”

At Connecticut College, Romero completed a double major in International Relations and Latin American Studies. He completed an internship with the Commerce Department in Argentina focused on Mercosur, the free trade union between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Romero is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. A native of Argentina, where he still has a big family and many friends, He moved to the States fifteen years ago. Currently his family lives in North Haven, Conn.
— Tracy Teare ’87


Timothy Reuter ’99
Building bridges of understanding

Timothy Reuter ’99, who works for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Office of Iraq Reconstruction, just returned from Baghdad in February. It was his first visit to Iraq but not to the Middle East.

In 1997 he’d spent a few weeks in Iran. (“All my Farsi pronunciation was wrong, but everyone was so excited that I had tried to learn the language.”). He later visited Jordan with a non-profit called Search for Common Ground, helping to bring about discussions between Arab human-rights groups and political Islamic groups. More recently he worked in the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and visited Egypt on a fellowship last year.

Reuter’s interest in the volatile region’s history took hold at CC, where he was a double major in anthropology and economics. He was accepted to the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) program. “It’s such a fantastic program,” he says. “[CISLA associate director] Mary S. Devins has made such an impact on the lives of the students

In the summer of 1998, Reuter took a trip to the West Bank that would come to shape his views in ways he is still exploring. At the time, “I really didn’t understand what I was seeing there,” he said. “The hatred was so intense. Everyone I met said there would be war, and no one believed that [the 1993 Oslo peace accords] would hold.

“Going to [the West Bank] was transformative in terms of my own Judaism,” continued Reuter, whose senior thesis focused on creating an oral history of New London’s Muslim community. “I needed to understand what my connection is to [the conflict], unless I wanted other people to define it for me.” That’s one reason Reuter spent his senior year alternately attending Hillel meetings and getting to know local Muslims.

Following graduation, Reuter taught English in Baton Rouge, La. through Teach for America and studied Arabic at Middlebury College. After the September 11 attacks took place — Reuter had matriculated at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies just a few days before — his interest in Middle Eastern affairs took on a stunning new relevancy.

“I see 9/11 as a change in the psychology of our interconnectedness, ” Reuter points out.

USAID employs thousands of people around the country to built schools, water-treatment plants and other facilities intended to improve citizens’ lives.

“One of the reasons the agency is getting more attention is that the National Security Council has [described its strategy as one of] defense, diplomacy and development. Well, that third pillar is [USAID].”

Reuter has a personal goal in mind as he continues his work.

“I have to try to understand it for myself if I am going to attempt to explain the United States to people in the Middle East and explain the Middle East to people here,” says Reuter.
— Amy Rogers Nazarov ’90


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