Desert Storm seems hazy nowadays. But not to Joe Metzger ’11, a newly initiated brother of Delta Kappa Epsilon.
“I had just turned 20. It was 3 a.m. and they were launching missiles at us,” he said. “Saddam Hussein was launching missiles at us.”
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It was Metzger’s first night on the front of the Gulf War. The lieutenant stood before his group of Navy Seabees and said, “Gentlemen, tonight we’re going to war.”
“I was stationed at a sentry position on the perimeter of camp when the chemical warfare alarm went off. I put my suit on and I remember hyperventilating in my mask, struggling to get to the bunker. All I could think about was that my hands were melting. This was our routine for the next three months.”
Metzger recalls the tail end of Desert Storm when United Nations soldiers slashed and burned more than 700 oil wells. “It was an environmental catastrophe. The sky of Kuwait was blanketed with blackness with just a tiny sliver of light on the horizon. It was dark 24 hours a day. It was like a three-month dream.”
Following Desert Storm, Metzger went on to become a Navy SEAL Platoon Leader and Mission Specialist, a Chief Petty Officer E-7 and War Zone Senior Security Coordinator under private contract for Kellog, Brown and Root.
Navy SEAL training is widely regarded as the most challenging military training in the world. Metzger doesn’t deny the rigorousness. “You think it’s hard at the time, but going to Iraq for two years and getting mortared every day is a different kind of hard,” he said.
I guess being mortared at 20 years old really puts the sophomore blues into perspective.
The 40-year-old undergrad is part of Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Program, a program for non-traditional students who bring exceptional backgrounds and aspirations to Yale.
“You get addicted to challenge. If I can do this then I can do that. Yale was one of the most challenging places I could go,” Metzger said. He adds Yale to a list of challenges that include Navy SEAL training, Army Ranger school, bicycling across the United States solo and completing the 50-mile JFK Ultra-Marathon, to name a few.
But, Metzger would be the last person to tell you he completed the 50-mile run, much less the day after a 10k. “I did it as a dare. Our mission was cancelled for the day and somebody dared me, so I did it,” he said.
Metzger wrote his entrance essay for the Eli Whitney Program on the prospect of meeting Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban member who used to be a Yale student. In the essay, Metzger acknowledges that his meeting with Rahmatullah could have occurred on a different field of encounter, one with a much more dramatic resolution.
“I have been fortunate enough to live many grand adventures, but experiencing the hostile and often atrocious acts of war has set me on a path to a new educational odyssey,” Metzger wrote. “What drives a man to kill another? What leads to these circumstances? Can desperately disparate cultures ever reconcile? Should they reconcile?”
Rahmatullah, studying at Yale as part of a non-degree program, was denied entrance into the Eli Whitney Program in 2006, prior to Metzger’s admittance. Rahmatullah and Metzger have never met.
Once admitted to Yale, Metzger declared a Political Science and American Studies double-major and began studying the military programs and missions in which he participated. “I wanted to have a more comprehensive view about where people stand,” Metzger said. Most people stand on their left foot.
One day, amid the typical liberal banter from Adam Simon’s Public Opinion peanut gallery, an uncanny pro-military rebuttal arose. Enter Tim Handlon ’10.
Metzger approached Handlon after class and the two exchanged information. Handlon, an aspiring Navy SEAL himself, was fascinated by Metzger’s military tales and exploits.
“When I met Joe, I was impressed with how humble he was given all that he had accomplished in the SEALS. That’s what those guys are all about — being silent professionals and asking nothing in return for their sacrifice,” Handlon said.
Handlon, a brother of DKE, wanted to make Metzger an honorary member of the fraternity in lieu of Metzger’s service and DKE’s long-standing military support. Metzger didn’t want to be an honorary brother; he wanted the real thing.
In October 2009, Metzger pledged the fraternity, and he was initiated this past January. DKE brothers felt strange about putting someone twice their senior through “Inspiration Week,” but Metzger insisted that the brothers not treat him with special preference. Covered in condiments, Metzger turned to Handlon and said, “I’m 40 years old. I should have a wife and kids, but I’m doing this crap. And I love it.”
Metzger sat on the cold, concrete basement floor Indian style for the entire week, enduring the ridiculousness and fatigue as the rest of the pledges did. “Joe’s life experiences far exceeded our own, but he never let an opportunity pass where he could share some knowledge that inspired and bonded us together,” fellow pledge Charles Holmes ’13 said.
“Hell Week was just irritating. It might have been easier as a young person, but the shared hardship was worth it and has a definite purpose. Nothing else can make a group of people bind together like shared hardship. It was the hardest thing I’ve done outside the military,” Metzger said.
“It was weird having a 40-year-old clean our house while we played video games,” Joe Traynor ’10 said. Not to mention, “he could probably snap our heads off before we knew it happened,” he added.
Metzger was awarded the military’s highest marksmanship awards, Expert Rifleman Medal and Expert Pistol Shot Medal. His Head Snapping Medal is still under consideration.
Metzger joined the fraternity with 26 other underclassmen and was given the pledge name Joseph “Blue” Pulaski after the 90-year-old pledge from the movie Old School. On Metzger’s 40th birthday, DKE threw him a party mimicking the KY Jelly wrestling scene from the movie. Although the fictional Blue doesn’t leave the wrestling pit alive, DKE’s “Old Navy Vet” emerged with just another year under his belt. And a few Natty Lites.
“The most important part of my time at Yale and in DKE is to build great relationships, as it has been my whole life,” he said. “It’s all about the brotherhood. It’s worth more than a degree.”
After Yale, Metzger is heading for home: Cleveland, Ohio. “I’ve spent my entire adult life away from my family,” he said. “The world is full of chaos but home is like the shire, home is my sanctuary.”
Although he was initially drawn to Yale because “it seemed to produce more world leaders than the other Ivies,” Metzger plans on teaching and getting involved in local politics. “A mentor of mine told me that true leadership starts with sacrificial and selfless citizenship,” he said.
Metzger doesn’t speak much of his time in Iraq. It would shake anybody up to tell the story of how 25 of his men were killed by a suicide bomber. Metzger was just outside the dining hall where the bomb went off.
“There’s guys who have sacrificed more than I have,” he said. “I feel I’ve just scratched the surface.”