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Quaker Theology #15

An Interview with David Gosling, Winter 2008.

Q. Can you tell us first a bit about your military service and your deployment to Iraq?

A. I am an Infantry Captain in the U.S. Army and have been stationed with the 10th Mountain Division of the XVIII Airborne Corps for the past 3 years. Before that I spent approximately 8 months at Ft. Benning, Georgia, for my Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School. Prior to that I was a cadet at the University of Colorado for four years on an ROTC Scholarship, and at the very beginning of my military sojourn I was an enlisted National Guardsman in my adopted home state of Tennessee when I was 17 years old.

This November (2007) I came home from a 15 month deployment to Iraq where I was stationed to the southwest of Baghdad in what is known among the media as "The Triangle of Death."

I found Iraq to be a dangerous place, but not in the same way I imagine Vietnam or Okinawa or Antietam was in the past. It was a surreal environment where the greater portion of time was spent talking to locals and attempting to help fix the problems of their economy, government, etc. Behind the scenes, however, there were groups of people posturing and moving in the hopes of killing one another. Ambushes were set; Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDís) were primed and buried; men were taken from their homes at night to be tortured and executed; bribes were offered and services were rendered. I found it difficult to maintain vigilance in a place where more often than not all things maintained the appearance of normality. In contrast to the continuous strain of combat in other wars, Operation Iraqi Freedom (post-invasion) continues to be fought in the blinding seconds where vehicles and bodies are torn apart; ambushes are sprung; and single, well-aimed shots are fired.

It is also important to note the complexity of the ongoing occupation. In the absence of any type of law and order following the fall of Saddam Husseinís regime in 2003 during the initial invasion, groups of like-minded young men formed insurgencies to fight the American forces as well as competing local militias. Soon Al-Qaeda operatives made their way into the country, and aligned several of these insurgent groups with the terrorist cells under Osama Bin Laden to fight the American occupation. Due to ongoing political tensions and an immense history of conflict, many of the Sunni and Shiite groups fought each other as well as the Kurds in the north, all in addition to fighting the Coalition forces on the ground.

To make matters even more complicated, the pool of applicants for both the Iraqi Army (which was originally disbanded in 2003) and the Iraqi Police were filled with individuals harboring ties to some of these anti-Coalition groups. What we found on our arrival in sector was an overwhelming mix of allegiances and disputes between sub-tribes and families of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish groups, with the occasional Al-Qaeda operative thrown in for good measure.

Q. And you had a Quaker background? Can you tell us about that?

A. My motherís parents raised their family outside Philadelphia near Valley Forge in what is still one of the strongest Quaker areas of the country, and they continue to be active in the Religious Society of Friends today. My parents met at Earlham College in Indiana: my mother went there because of her Quaker background, and my father went after attending Westtown School, where he was encouraged by the Quaker faculty to move forward in a similar institution. My elder brother and I were raised in the Religious Society of Friends in the same area of Pennsylvania up until the ages of 9 and 7, when our mother felt called by God to become an Episcopalian Priest. She was accepted to Seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where she completed her theological education before being ordained. My parents divorced during this time, and my father raised us from that point on without any particular religious affiliation.

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