By Adam Baker/News writer
As Eastern students found themselves at the halfway mark of the spring break holiday, United States President George Bush found himself at the final moment of an ultimatum for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to produce missing weapons of mass destruction or leave Iraq. Last Wednesday night U.S. and coalition bombs were dropped over Iraq, beginning “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Skies lit up over Baghdad with flashes and explosions while here on the homefront, skies filled with the light of a full moon, silence and anticipation.
Just five days after American troops engaged in combat in the Gulf (for the second time of our lifetime), campus offices re-opened and classes resumed Monday. Although Monday may have seemed like an average day on campus, the actions taking place on the other side of the globe were on everyone’s mind.
“I think our national leaders have tried to prepare us that (this conflict) would not be easy or over as quickly as some persons might hope,” Eastern President Joanne Glasser said on Monday. “My prayers are for the safety of American service men and women and for the protection of innocent lives.”
War in question
As the United States and its allies engage in conflict overseas, opinions concerning the actions and decisions from the Bush Administration here at home differ.
“George Bush should be impeached,” said Bob Topmiller, an Eastern professor, member of the EKU Colonels for Peace and a Vietnam War veteran.
“It is breaking my heart to see so many young Marines being killed in a senseless conflict that will only create enemies for the United States. They deserve better leadership than the chicken hawks of the Bush Administration.”
However, Lauren Cehula, a freshman from Morgantown, W.Va., whose boyfriend is in the Reserves and nearing deployment said she supports President Bush and the strikes overseas.
“I am a huge supporter of Bush and the Republican Party and I support the actions he has chosen,” she said. “He knows what is best for our country and its people and would not do anything to jeopardize our lives.”
President Glasser said she “deeply respects” President Bush’s responsibility, but agrees with national policy.
“I am sure that he is absolutely convinced that he has done the right thing for our country and its citizens,” she said.
“Consequently, I come down on the side of supporting our national policy.”
Support for the troops
In light of recent world-wide protest, support for the U.S. troops carrying out the orders under the Bush Administration remains an issue both pro- and anti-war supporters claim to represent.
Yellow ribbons have been tied to street lamps in downtown Richmond and several residents of the community are displaying flags. Richmond is home to at least one of three Kentucky National Guard units that have been deployed in the current military operations.
In a forum held Monday concerning deployments, Maj. Lance Peterson, of the department of military sciences, said support for the troops helps their morale during their time of service.
Lt. Col. Brett Morris, commander of Eastern’s ROTC, said the job of a soldier is one of great responsibility.
“Each time an officer commissions they accept an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States,” he said. “It is a very serious oath and a tremendous commitment; one that all too often calls for individuals to make the greatest sacrifice – to die in the defense of liberty.”
Morris added that those who accept this position, including students here at Eastern, have a “deep meaning of the words etched on the Korean War Memorial: ‘Freedom Is Not Free.'”
“Members of Eastern’s Corps of Cadets are preparing themselves to accept this most awesome responsibility as they earnestly pray and hope for their friends who are in harms way,” he said. “They are indeed the ‘Colonels’ Pride’.”
Neal Thompson, a sophomore public relations major from Louisville, said he expects the soldiers to encounter even more danger in the future.
“Once U.S. troops get into Baghdad it will be a battle until the end,” he said. “The bad thing is that there is a very good chance that there will be many casualties in this war.”
Increased terror alert
Even though the dangerous engagements of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” are taking place in what seems like a world away, tensions on the home front continue to grow.
On March 17, The Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level to Level Orange, the second highest state of risk for terrorist attacks.
The worry of possible attacks on U.S. soil has prompted individuals nationwide to increase security. The effects of this increased alert are even apparent at Eastern.
Those logging onto the university’s Web site will encounter a new addition to the Homepage – an orange box titled “Emergency Information Update.” The info-box contains links to a letter from President Glasser, emergency phone numbers on campus and university emergency procedures; including detailed evacuation instructions.
“As America enters into war with Iraq, college and university campuses across the nation are on heightened alert,” said Marc Whitt, associate vice president for public relations and marketing.
“EKU is no exception. Student safety and security are among the University’s top priorities and having the Emergency Information Box posted on EKU’s Web site demonstrates that concern,” he said.
Glasser warned if the national threat level is increased to the highest state of alert, Level Red, “it may be necessary to put in affect additional security and safety measures on campus,” because of the Blue Grass Army Depot’s close proximity to campus.
Glasser also told The Progress the weapons at the Depot are “stored in reinforced concrete bunkers and are under very heavy security.” However, she added campus still “needs to be prepared in the unlikely event of an incident (at the Depot).”
Graduate student Matt Schumacher from Monroe, Ohio, said the university’s closeness to the Depot doesn’t worry him.
“I feel as safe here as I would anywhere else in the U.S.,” he said.
However, Schumacher added it is always possible for another attack like the one the nation saw Sept. 11, 2001.
“I think we are vulnerable at any time to be struck with another terrorist attack,” he said. “However, if people worry so much about terror attacks they will drive themselves crazy.”
After flipping on the television, it is difficult for people not to worry with constant reminders airing about the conflict with Iraq. Most cable news channels are devoting their entire news coverage to the strike on Iraq. Network stations have added hours to their daily news coverage and even channels like MTV offer updates regarding the action overseas.
Whether it is glowing green “night scope” views of Baghdad, the frontline coverage of reporters “imbedded” with soldiers or the in-depth analysis of retired military officials, the news coverage of this U.S. engagement is truly like no other war reporting.
Students on campus have mixed feelings about the prolonged news coverage.
“I think it is way overdone,” Schumacher said. “There has never been a war with this much news coverage.”
Schumacher added he was glad CBS decided to air the NCAA basketball games saying “the troops probably appreciate it more than anyone else.”
Cori Martinek, a freshman from Middletown, Ohio, said she thinks the news coverage is fair and informative.
“I think it helps us realize what the soldiers are going through over there and makes us appreciate their se
rvice even more,” she said.
President Glasser said she tries to “keep up with major developments without allowing it to consume time” and the coverage she has seen so far has been “professionally done.”
Helping hands on campus
In this time of uncertainty and anguish people look for comfort in many places. Ken Southgate, director and Campus minster for The Wesley Foundation said he has counseled numerous students since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq.
“I cannot pretend to know all the reasons people have for making war, much less assess their true motives,” he said. “I can say this: Christians believe that when Christ comes back to reign here on earth there will be no war, ever.”
Southgate also said he understands that sometimes it is necessary.
“Leaving a tyrant in power to brutalize his own people is far from kind, loving or Christian.”
Students having trouble coping with the war may also contact Eastern’s Counseling Center.
“We have a lot of students who are being affected by deployment of armed forces,” Michalle Rice, a counselor at Eastern’s center, told The Progress.
“We would like to offer an opportunity for them so they see they aren’t the only ones who are affected by this on campus,” she said.
Rice added that no matter what a student’s need may be, the Counseling Center is full of professionals ready to help.