Iraq vets return to talk war

U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenants Ewan MacDougall ’03 and Ben Klay ’03 returned to Yale Thursday afternoon to speak about their seven-month military tours in Ramadi, Iraq.

MacDougall and Klay spoke to a crowd of about 25 students on how their experiences at Yale shaped their time in the armed forces, their opinions on serving in the marine corps, and the Iraq War. Since the officers served in different capacities during their time abroad — MacDougall engaged in direct combat as a platoon commander and Klay worked as a military strategist — they addressed the same issues from different viewpoints.

Both MacDougall and Klay are former participants of the “Studies in Grand Strategy” program, a yearlong leadership course offered through the International Security Studies Department at Yale. While the lieutenants said they enjoyed their time in the program, they said what they had studied was often unrelated to the challenges they faced in Iraq.

“What I was doing on a day-to-day basis was below the radar screen of GS,” MacDougall said.

But Klay said his broader experiences at Yale served as a good foundation for his job.

“Simple decisions like choosing to go left or go right can have severe implications and become life-and-death matters,” Klay said. “It made me very thankful for the critical thinking experiences I got here [at Yale].”

MacDougall said the marines brought out a side of him that he never knew existed before.

“You may remember me from Yale as quiet, laid-back and not talking that much,” Macdougall said. “But I learned how to chew ass in the marines.”

During his time in Ramadi — a predominately Sunni city in a Shiite region of Iraq — MacDougall led 40 marines as a platoon commander. His work centered on patrolling the market district in downtown Ramadi.

Across the Euphrates River, Klay’s work pertained to bombing strategy and information gathering. Because Klay was not involved in direct combat, he led a more comfortable life than MacDougall.

“The food was great,” Klay said. “We got lobster every couple of weeks.”

Klay said he generally enjoyed his tour in Iraq and found it “enormously satisfying.”

“I believe in what we are doing over there,” Klay said. “I am glad that I was born when I was so that I could be in the Middle East at such a pivotal time.”

Audience members who listened to Klay and MacDougall said they enjoyed their presentation.

“It’s intense to be in the presence of people willing to take the ultimate risk and then come back here to talk to us about it,” said Karl Scherrer ’08, who spent nine years in the armed forces before enrolling at Yale. “More people should listen to talks like this to gain an understanding of what’s happening around the world.”

History professor John Gaddis, one of the “Grand Strategy” professors, said he was glad that Klay and MacDougall returned safely.

“Ben and Ewan both occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of GS,” Gaddis said.

Klay said he will return to Iraq next spring to serve as combat engineer and platoon commander, while MacDougall did not specify his future plans.

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