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F&M Students Explore Impact of Iraq War on Local Veterans, Immigrants

  • After War student documentary
  • From left, one of the "After War" documentary's interviewers, Franklin & Marshall College sophomore Molly Gilmore, with one of the interviewees, Iraqi refugee Sarah Hasan, center, and Kaley Keener, F&M Arabic Language Teaching Fellow and translator for the project. 

By Warren Glynn '15

A West Point graduate and Lancaster resident was forthright with a Franklin & Marshall College research student about his wartime experiences as an army major in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005 and 2011.

"I am, personally, tired of war," said Brian Zickefoose, now employed by a local electric utility and still a major in the United States Army Reserve. "My whole career, I've known nothing but that … I don't ever want to go back again."

With a well-established community of veterans and an influx of new Iraqi immigrants, the Lancaster area has experienced the lasting effects of the Iraq War in a way that provided a group of F&M students a unique glimpse into the personal costs of war.

Students in Visiting Professor of American Studies David Kieran's senior seminar "After War" and Professor of Film and Media Studies Dirk Eitzen’s "Documentary Video Workshop" interviewed local Iraq War veterans and Iraqi refugees to learn about their experiences and how they were affected by the conflict.

  • After War student documentary
  • Brian Zickefoose, a U.S. Army major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was interviewed in Franklin & Marshall College's New College House for the documentary. "I'm tired of war," he said. "My whole career, I've known nothing but that." (Photo from "After War")

"In the study of wars in the United States, we often spend a lot of time studying the events that happened during the war,” said Kieran, noting that physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often are discussed less than the battles that cause them. "We spend little time on what happens after the war.”

Both "After War" and "Documentary Video Workshop" are among F&M's community-based learning classes, in which students directly apply classroom learning to real-world experiences in the Lancaster community.

The students in both classes recently presented their projects to the community members who shared their stories at a reception in F&M's New College House. Students from Eitzen's class screened their documentaries, while the "After War" students presented a video timeline that features the veterans' and immigrants' biographies, video testimonies, and contextual news footage. 

"The goal was to have students go off campus and explore," Eitzen said. "Filmmaking can bring people together and give a sense of community."

In preparation for "After War," Kieran contacted local veterans and worked through organizations such as F&M’s Ware Institute for Civic Engagement to connect with Iraqi refugees. After setting up introductions, though, he charged his students with managing their projects and building a conversation with their sources.

"It was a great experience," said sophomore Molly Gilmore, an American studies and Spanish double major in the seminar who interviewed Sarah Hasan, an Iraqi refugee and mother of two. 

  • After War documentary
  • The front page of the March 20, 2003 edition of The New York Times annouces the start of the Iraq War. (Copyright The New York Times 2003)

"There was a sense of independence in our work. We were not just doing interviews but trying to make real connections."

Five months ago, Hasan, a Baghdad native, moved to Lancaster from Turkey, where she had been waiting to gain refugee status in the U.S.

"The Americans came and rid us of Sadam," Hasan tells interviewer Gilmore. "But now, the government that we are left with, the current government, it doesn’t really know how to rule the people, or take care of issues or keep order."

Taking the initiative to connect with community members made the project significantly more personal and gave her and her classmates a better understanding of the war and its effects, said Gilmore.

Sophomore Kelsey Glander, an American studies major, and senior Malorie Sassaman, an American studies and psychology double major, teamed up to interview two veterans.

"Learning from people beyond the campus community is a lot different from reading a textbook or attending a lecture," Sassaman said.

  • After War student documentary
  • The Rev. Bill Worley, a Marine chaplain who served in Iraq, told his Franklin & Marshall College interviewers: "Civilians misunderstand everything about war veterans." (Photo from "After War")

Glander said she had a deeper sense of the war after meeting with the veterans.

"Sometimes, the only common thread in these stories is that they took place during the war," she said. "Everyone had radically different experiences. It helped to understand the war knowing that our neighbors lived it."

The Rev. Bill Worley told his F&M interviewers: "Civilians misunderstand everything about war veterans."  

A graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary and now a senior pastor at First Reformed, United Church of Christ in downtown Lancaster, Worley served as a chaplain with the Marine Corps in Iraq's Al Anbar Province from September 2006 to April 2007.

"It's very difficult to understand a veteran's perspective, and because veterans have such different experiences there's no way to say, 'This is what a veteran's experience is like,'" Worley said. "Every vet's experience is going to be different and so to try to understand the varieties of those experiences, I don’t know if that's possible."

Each year, Eitzen's documentary class selects a different topic to explore. This year, Eitzen approached Kieran about launching the collaborative project focusing on the after-effects of war.

"Students went to extraordinary lengths to meet with community members," Eitzen said. "To see people talk, to hear people talk, is different from reading their words. Having students listen and be able to share these stories is fundamental to documentary film-making."

Kieran said he was gratified by the level of support his class received from community leaders, who helped students get in contact with their sources, and F&M faculty, who volunteered to help translate during interviews.

"This was an opportunity for everyone to think about how the Iraq War has affected them," he said. "And the students we have here are students we can send out into the community to handle these things with intellectual rigor and compassion."