Gen X in the Green Zone
(The U.S. sends its best and brightest young people to Iraq.)
“I can't sleep. I lie awake in my luxurious trailer and my mind is racing through possible scenarios. A few days ago there was a stretch where we were attacked several days in a row at 8am...like clockwork. Thankfully they have subsided since but for that stretch each morning my 'alarm clock' was a loud BOOM and a shaking trailer."
So begins an April 16 diary entry of 25-year-old Brendan Lund. Brendan and his cousin, Craig, are in Baghdad, working with the Iraqi Ministry of Finance in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). They're just two of the scores of young Americans who have volunteered since March 2003 to live in a war zone, sleep in bare-minimum trailers, work 16-hour days (or more), and wake up to rocket attacks — all in the name of building democracy in Iraq.
"Personally I looked at it as the right thing to do," Brendan says. "How can people my age who have this choice not want to go out and do this?"
In September 2001, fresh out of Carnegie Mellon, Brendan took a job at Merrill Lynch and found himself just minutes away from the World Trade Center on the morning of the 9/11 attacks. Stepping out of the subway, the Massachusetts native heard an enormous explosion as the first tower's cargo elevator crashed into the basement.
"What I took away from September 11 was a feeling of utter helplessness with regard to terrorist attacks," he says. "They could happen any time, anywhere."
Brendan describes 9/11 as a "subconscious motivation" for his decision to head out to Baghdad. He wasn't sure — still isn't — that there is a link between Saddam and al Qaeda, but "I think the U.S. understood and Bush understands that the war on terrorism is a war without fronts." In some ways, it took being in Iraq to convince Brendan — a registered Independent — of the importance of building democracy there: Seeing with his own eyes what Saddam wrought and interacting with Iraqis were powerful testimonies to the justice of liberating and rebuilding the country.
It was Craig who introduced Brendan to the idea of working for the CPA. A 2001 Dartmouth graduate, Craig was working as an investment banker for Deutsche Bank when he heard that one of his coworkers and his girlfriend, who was then a consultant at McKinsey, were leaving for Iraq. In December 2003 Craig sent his resume to the Department of Defense and encouraged Brendan to apply too. By the end of February the two were in Baghdad.
The cousins' story is not unusual among the young Baghdad volunteers. Many come from top schools and promising private-sector jobs. Some went because they believed in the war effort; others went because it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, or just because they could. What they have in common now is that despite the dangers of being there and all they could be doing back home — and despite the torrent of bad news Americans hear about the occupation — they believe we have an obligation to do right by the Iraqi people by seeing the reconstruction through.
A lot has been said about people going overseas to work because there was no other option for gainful employment. This article seems to disprove that assumption. Article is a little long but a worthy read...Maynard