Over a week ago I, along with fifteen other newly-hired firefighters bound for Iraq, assembled in Houston for pre-departure orientation. At midweek we were joined by another dozen or so who are returning for their second or third tour. An eclectic group, perhaps half are former military firefighters, while a couple are recently-retired career firefighters, looking for an opportunity to be of service in their retirement. Some have more than thirty years of firefighting experience, while others just meet the minimum standard of four years. Most are from career departments, though there are a few of us who are volunteer firefighters. We come from East and West Coasts, Sunbelt and Rustbelt.
All of us are making this commitment for any number of reasons. Most, I am confident, are attracted by the salary, which in my experience is at least twice what a four-year veteran of a municipal department could expect to make. Others are motivated by a desire for adventure and excitement. Many seem motivated by a genuine desire to serve their country by providing fire and rescue services to military personnel. And at least one is motivated by a desire to witness the attempt to construct a functional Iraqi society, to get to know the stakeholders involved in that process, and to perhaps play a small role in that effort.
Peter Schramm has been kind enough to offer me some space on No Left Turns, to share my experiences and impressions of events in Iraq from this curious perspective. I must admit that I am new to blogging, and so I ask your indulgence as I learn the ropes. I also ask your understanding if I do not respond immediately to your posts. For the next two weeks at the least, my schedule is filled with orientation and training seminars. But by the end of this month, I should be able to settle into a routine as I finally arrive at my post. I thought however that this might be the best time to introduce myself and my project.
For those of you who do not know me, for the past eight years I have been an assistant professor of government and foreign affairs at Hampden-Sydney College. My research interests are comparative politics broadly, including the politics of the Middle East, and political development more specifically. In addition, I am the director of the Center for the Study of the Constitution, an organization recognized by the APSA as a "related group." I am also a fellow with the Bill of Rights Institute in Washington, D.C. At the moment I am on leave from Hampden-Sydney to conduct my field research in Iraq.
I am also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Hampden-Sydney Volunteer Fire Department (not affiliated with the neighboring college). And so, when Wackenhut Services Inc. appealed for firefighters to provide fire and EMS services to U.S. military installations in Iraq, the interests of my profession and my "hobby" coalesced, and my adventure was begun.
I have no idea where I will be posted once in country. I imagine that my assignment will largely be determined by my skills and the staffing needs of the moment. I will however be assigned to a base, and my duties will be confined to that base. We are not providing fire suppression and EMS services to the Iraqis.
While I certainly have suspicions regarding the conditions I will encounter, I intend to remain open and receptive to whatever comes my way. Additionally, this conflation of firefighting and political development will likely strike many as odd, and I intend to explain the method to my madness. Perhaps that can form the subject of a post in the near future. Until then…