Soldier comes home, shares experiences

Published 8:57 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Lance Cpl. Jason A Whitney, a truck driver in the U.S Marine Corps, came back to visit the school he graduated from on Monday
Whitney, who graduated from Brandywine High School in 2001, was in Iraq from January to July during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On Monday, he talked to the school's high school students about his experiences in Iraq and the training he had to go through to become a Marine.
Whitney, who is currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC, also showed pictures from his tour of duty.
The slide show gave the students a visual image of the differences from Kuwait, where he was first stationed, to Iraq, which he entered when the war started.
But Whitney also told the high school students about some of the cultural differences that separate Iraqis and people from Kuwait.
He said Kuwaitis would often cook food and wash U.S soldiers' clothes, perhaps as a kind gesture to repay Americans for helping drive out Saddam Hussein and his soldiers during the first Gulf War.
Kuwait, whose country's fortune is based on oil, is also a very rich country, Whitney said.
Many roads are five lane freeways with perfect asphalt and the men -- the women are not allowed to drive cars in Kuwait -- often drive expensive cars, he said.
But step into Iraq, and the story appears to be different.
Whitney said he was among the first Americans to enter Iraq when the war started.
He said buildings in Iraq are in poor condition and the roads are "no good" and "full of holes."
And there are "tons" of dirt roads, he said.
Whitney said the Iraqis he encountered in southern Iraq wore worn out sandals and the children were often on the streets begging for food.
And, they would try to sell the U.S soldiers anything they could to get their hands on to "Bush" dollar.
But one thing is similar on both sides of the Kuwait-Iraqi border, and that's the climate.
Whitney told the students about sandstorms fuelled by 60 mph winds that flattened entire tent camps and was so strong that sand kernels sometimes got embedded in the skin.
During the day, especially in summer, the heat reached unbearable heights, Whitney said.
Snakes, scorpions, spiders and lizards were also common, although few incidents were reported as it being a problem, he said.
Jim Boger, athletic director at the middle-high school, was glad to have Whitney come into the school and share his experiences with the high school students on Monday
He said the students pay more attention to what is said when they know the person talking, especially one that was a student at the school only a few years back. Boger, who doesn't have any war experience, said he can talk about history based on having read war books, but it's not the same as hearing it from someone with first hand experience.