Spring Summer 08

The Core


Off to the Races

Practice Makes Perfect

Portraits of the Artists


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Irrefutable Fun

Broadened Horizons

The Searchers

Fair Trade

Diamond Anniversary

Project Help

From Maroon to Marine

Dinosaur Discoverer

Go Ask Alumni

Beyond the Quads

From Maroon to Marine

An alumnus serves.

Justin Palmer, AB’04, supported the United States–led invasion of Iraq in 2003 from its beginning. As a columnist for the Chicago Maroon, he was vocal about this support, but he was dissatisfied with merely being a pundit on the sidelines. “Watching thousands of Americans fighting in the streets of a foreign country for something I considered vital to national security while I sat in a classroom and read Thucydides really bothered me,” he explains. After graduating with a degree in political science, he worked for the Bush/ Cheney reelection campaign, and then in the office of Representative David Hobson (R-OH) in Washington, DC, while working on a master’s degree at Georgetown. Still, he dreamed of serving his country in uniform. His family had a tradition of military service, including his brother, who had recently been commissioned as a Marine officer. Contributing to this pull was the clientele of a restaurant he frequented in Quantico called the Globe and Laurel, owned by a Marine veteran; Palmer became friendly with the many Marine veterans of World War II who patronized it and started to wonder how he compared. These influrelated ences added up; one afternoon in March 2006, he took the plunge and enlisted in the Marine Corps. “While a degree from the University of Chicago may prepare you for a lot of things,” Palmer says, “life in the infantry is not one of them.” For one thing, at 25 he was older than most of his classmates in boot camp, who were typically right out of high school; for another, the Marine Corps values practical skills (e.g., field-stripping a rifle) over theoretical knowledge (e.g., discussing the causes of the Franco-Prussian War) for enlisted personnel. In this regard, he describes the Marines as “almost the polar opposite of studying at Chicago.” Trained as a rifleman, Palmer was eventually promoted to lance corporal and assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment, based out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Palmer’s unit recently completed a deployment to Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to act as company clerk, assisting his company’s first sergeant with administrative matters and paperwork—“ which is about as exciting as it sounds,” he notes wryly. However, because of Palmer’s college degree, he was also assigned the duties of company intelligence representative. Because counterinsurgency warfare requires so much intelligence work, he explains, “the Marine Corps took a bunch of infantrymen, trained them in intelligence work, and used them to supplement our S-2 (Intelligence) Marines.” He would relay reports from patrols to headquarters for analysis: “In counterinsurgency, even seemingly insignificant information can prove vital in figuring out the enemy’s plans or operatives.”

Since his company’s deployment to Anbar, at a forward operating base on the outskirts of Fallujah, local violence has decreased markedly. Al- Qaeda is only a small factor there now, Palmer says, primarily because the residents turned against them “for the same reason they initially hated us—they’re outsiders trying to impose their view of what Iraq should be.” Still, the area is hardly bucolic. “Every attempt to interact with the Iraqis has to be done behind a layer of security. We can’t just drive out into town and have dinner with someone. We have to mount a patrol that goes crashing through backyards, tromping over fields, wading through canals, and shows up at their house looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The cultural differences are dramatic, too; though Palmer is left-handed, he had to learn to eat with his right so as to not to appear rude in the eyes of his Iraqi hosts.

Palmer’s unit returned back to the United States in February. However, since his enlistment isn’t up until 2010, he will probably serve at least one more tour overseas, in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. He isn’t sure whether he’ll reenlist when the time comes; a bachelor when he joined up, he married fellow Chicago grad Jennifer Trout, AB’01, in 2006, and may decide to pursue a job with regular hours so he can be with her more. But he feels happy with his decision to enlist: “Anyone can run their mouth about what needs to be done in the world, but it’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is, pick up a rifle, and patrol the streets of Anbar.”—Benjamin Recchie, AB’03