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After a tour in Iraq, Elizabeth Suarez is back in the classroom
Walking towards the School of Law on a sunny Friday afternoon, Elizabeth Suarez, a 26-year-old Quinnipiac junior, passes me her iPhone, telling me to cycle through a few photos.
They’re photos of her in a dusty barrack, holding an M-16 rifle and wearing a full army uniform. She is smiling.
“Well,” she said between drags of a cigarette. “I wasn’t always.”
Looking at Suarez, there is not much to indicate she is a veteran of the Iraq conflict, one of the longest and most debated military involvements in our country’s history. Wearing the normal attire of any college student, Suarez attempts to define the past 10 years of her life, from her youthful aspirations to time spent stationed in both Baghdad and Baumholder, Germany.
“First going to Iraq, it was kind of depressing in a way, because I didn’t know if I was going to come back,” Suarez said. “Not necessarily from danger, but anything can happen in a country like that, in a situation like that.”
Suarez served as a supply sergeant in an engineer unit at U.S. Falcon Base in Baghdad, 10 kilometers from Camp Victory. Her position included not only constructing plans to ensure the safety of infantry units, but also performing breaching and demolition assignments.
“In Iraq, we did a lot of conducting like that,” Suarez said. “We used specialized equipment to clear IEDs [improvised explosive devices] to clear routes for other units to go and do their patrols.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, Suarez has had a penchant for travel as long as she can remember. settling down at school was the last thing on Suarez’s mind after traveling in several different countries with her parents
“I got accepted into UConn, went for a bit, but became too stressed with the workload,” Suarez said. “I wanted to try a different environment.”
After going into a recruiter’s office and passing the test, Suarez achieved her goal and shipped out after six months. She underwent basic training, waking up before 5 a.m. to do hours of exercise and physical training.
Suarez was then deployed to Germany in 2004, where she underwent a common routine of waking up early, traveling to get equipment, ordering supplies and meeting with company commanders and executive officers.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Suarez received notification she would be stationed in Iraq.
“It definitely wasn’t my choice,” Suarez said, laughing. “I knew it was going to happen, but when it did I called my mom immediately and said ‘Mom, it happened.’ ”
Suarez remembered her mother being in a panic, but will always remember her being in support of her decisions. It was “the only way I could figure out what I wanted to do in life.”
Leaving behind a more comfortable routine in Germany, Suarez arrived in Baghdad and remained stationed there for over a year.
At one point during Suarez’s tour on Iraqi soil, her base camp underwent fire from an 82mm round striking an ammunition depot, resulting in explosions that lasted hours, according to the Associated Press.
“It hit us, our ammunition at our base,” Suarez said. “We were in our buildings, lying on the ground with our gear.”
Suarez headed back to Germany for a few more years, then left active duty to join the National Guard stationed in New Haven.
Once Suarez graduated from Northwestern Community College, she found herself searching for a new environment, ultimately ending up at Quinnipiac.
“The only [school] I felt right at was here,” Suarez said.
Her military career is now over, but she said it was a time she will never forget.
“Do you want to know the truth?” Suarez said, smiling. “I would do it again if I could.”
Photo credit: Charlotte Greene