Thoughts from a Soldier

By Guest Contributor

As a member of the Middlebury College alumni community, I feel compelled to share my reflections on the offensive and deeply saddening act that occurred on its campus on the twelfth anniversary of September 11, 2001.

I graduated from Middlebury College in 2012. This year, I spent the anniversary of Sept. 11 in Afghanistan, deployed as a U.S. Army lieutenant. I serve here alongside countless soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who were motivated to join the U.S. military as a result of the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11. Many deployed service members choose to honor the lives lost on that day and those that have followed in its aftermath in their own quiet, contemplative ways. Often, in a deployed environment, there isn’t time for commemorative ceremonies due to the high operational tempo. I was appalled to end the anniversary of Sept. 11 by reading about this incident. I sincerely hope that no service member has the ill fortune of coming across this event. If they do, I hope they contribute to this discussion and reveal why, on so many levels, what these five people did was inexcusably wrong.

I was particularly drawn to one of the comments by “Bob” in response to the Campus article covering the incident, which read, “I would love for Anna to be attached to a rucksack frame, brought into active combat and truly fight for her right to desecrate the one piece of symbolic fabric that ties us together as Americans, the Flag of the United States of America.” While I believe witnessing the efforts that American service members undertake to defend the freedoms of the United States would be an enlightening experience, it would be impossible for this student to do so because her actions suggest that she lacks the respect, honor and sense of selflessness that is required for a soldier to embody.

As a former Middlebury student, I am infuriated that one would destroy the work and public expression belonging to that of two political student groups that united together in order to honor the lives lost in the tragic events of 9/11. While freedom of expression is something every American is afforded, the disrespectful annihilation of another’s is intolerable, especially in a college setting where fostering intelligent discussion and debate is of the utmost priority. To my knowledge, this group of people, including at least one Middlebury College student, made no attempt to contact the owners of the flags and explain their questionable claim regarding Abenaki burial grounds before stuffing the flags in a trash bag.  It appears that this act was carried out in an incredibly under-researched, selfish and disrespectful attempt to bring attention to oneself with absolutely zero regard for the 2,997 lives that were lost that day.

Five years ago, I remember hurriedly walking across the lawn in front of the library in uniform in order to make it to my Army ROTC class at UVM in time. As I approached the library, I saw the lawn covered in thousands of American flags and I couldn’t help but stop and reflect. I was aware that the flags stood for thousands of lives that were lost on that horrific day. At the same time, I was overcome with pride because I belonged to a community that took the initiative to honor those lives in a beautiful and visible way.

Despite the incredibly disrespectful actions of one student, I strongly believe that an organization should not be characterized by the actions of just one member. What happened is uncharacteristic of everything that I believe Middlebury to value and stand for. Just like in the face of any adversity, Middlebury will be characterized by how it responds and, I hope, by emerging stronger.

A large American flag hangs outside the banister of my living quarters here in Afghanistan. The day after I read about this incident, I hung my Middlebury College banner next to it. I still have the utmost confidence in Middlebury. I also strongly hope that its administration and leaders will respond with serious disciplinary action against any student involved in this unfathomable act. Thank you to all of those students who made the effort to honor the lives lost on 9/11 by emplacing the American flags.

EMILY NUNEZ ’12 is writing from Afghanistan.