January 26, 2011 16:15 Age: 3 yrs

Ed Patterson 13L Admission Essay

I spent my childhood in two vastly different places—Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Growing up overseas gave me some degree of comfort in unusual circumstances and different cultural contexts. But moving back to the United States in time for fifth grade was the most alienating experience I had yet had. I shared no common experiences with my peers, and did not speak the shared language of pop culture. I had to be resilient and learned how to make friends quickly. When my family later moved to El Salvador, I matriculated at a boarding school outside of Philadelphia. At 14, the experience of living on my own was similarly disorienting. Living with numerous housemates and being a member of such a close knit community taught me the virtues of patience and camaraderie.

After graduating from the University of Chicago, I felt a calling to test myself at a time when the nation was at war. I wanted to become a leader and experience current events firsthand.  Becoming an Army officer was the challenge I needed. I endured the shouting drill sergeants at Basic Training, the cannons firing at Artillery School, the grueling patrols at Ranger School, and parachuting out of planes at Airborne School. These experiences met my expectations because they conformed to the images in recruiting advertisements. In short, I expected to fight.

When I deployed with the U.S. Army to Iraq in the fall of 2007, my expectations of a year at war were not borne out—fortunately. As deployment neared, the news from Iraq was an incessant litany of bloodshed. Our area of operations was called the “Triangle of Death.” But my battalion arrived just as security was improving. Tribal leaders had entered into contracts with the United States to provide armed neighborhood watches and to help push out irreconcilable insurgents. Our job was to make the security gains permanent. This would not be accomplished simply by brandishing our rifles, but by meeting the needs of the population and enhancing the legitimacy of the local government.

As my battalion’s senior artilleryman, I was trained for conventional warfare. But in this counterinsurgency environment, artillery fell silent. The indiscriminate firing of artillery would have resulted in civilian casualties, greater animosity towards us, and ultimately, more insurgents. Given this environment, I would have been underemployed, but I quickly took over my battalion’s reconstruction portfolio. This unusual job became the culminating event of my military career and the most rewarding experience of my life.

In this role, I nominated projects, worked with local contractors, wrote contracts, secured funding, and met with Iraqi officials. Previous development efforts had been unsuccessful because no effort had been made to sustain projects and there was little input from Iraqis. To ensure sustainability, I knew that we needed local input. I met with local town councils to prioritize needs and to design projects. In one instance, our battalion purchased thousands of water filters after locals alerted us to a cholera outbreak.

I also saw that money would have to be used on a large and small scale. For example, this meant providing micro-grants to local entrepreneurs, funding a $90,000 fertilizer subsidy, rebuilding a bridge we had destroyed, and creating a $7 million vocational training program. My battalion rebuilt areas razed by extremists and emboldened local government by giving them money and credit for the projects. Because of these efforts, we were able to reach into areas rarely traversed by U.S. forces. Local support, assurances of leaders, and visible improvement in quality of life showed that our efforts had real impact.

Having to adapt quickly to uncomfortable or stressful situations had been required throughout my earlier life. In Iraq, I confronted the most complicated situation yet, but learned quickly and led endeavors that advanced our military interests by building and repairing, not destroying things. Being an officer in the Army taught me not only how to rise to the challenge in unfamiliar situations, as I had before, but how to be a leader in them.

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