Fall 2014 Veterans' Interviews
The students in Dr. Lauren Rule Maxwell’s Fall 2014 undergraduate Advanced Composition class conducted oral history interviews with a diverse group of Citadel veterans to learn about their military experiences. In addition to conducting interviews, the students incorporated the veterans’ stories into a range of writing exercises, including abstracts and feature articles, which appear with the interviews online. In organizing the project, The Citadel English Department and the Krause Center for Leadership & Ethics once again teamed up with Fred Lesinski, Chief of Voluntary Service at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston.
Click on the hyperlinked headings below to see video recordings of the interviews, which also will be archived in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. By capturing these histories, it is our hope that the interviews will do justice to the veterans’ stories while paying homage to their legacy and the principled leadership they inspire.
Many people deserve thanks for helping make this project a reality. In particular, we’d like to thank Lawrence Galasso in Multimedia Services; Raschonda Frazier and Kara Klein in the Office of Communications and Marketing; Donna Hurt and Tiffany Silverman from Citadel Fine Arts and their Photography students, who took the portraits; and the staff of The Daniel Library.
United States Army veteran Lieutenant Colonel Keith Brace traces his military career through his 20 years of service in this interview. He recounts some of his key assignments, deployments, and other memorable experiences. Born March 9, 1969, to Diane and Ken Brace in Silver Spring, Maryland, Brace was inspired by his JROTC instructor to pursue an Army career, resulting in his decision to attend The Citadel on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation in 1991, he commissioned as an infantry officer, and, shortly thereafter, was assigned to the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In the interview, LTC Brace speaks of a near deployment to Haiti in 1994, an assignment in Germany, from which he deployed on a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia in 1996, his assignment as active duty advisor to the South Carolina National Guard, his deployment to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, where he was wounded by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and awarded the Purple Heart, and his final active duty assignment as the Professor of Military Science at Wake Forest University, where he retired from the Army before returning to The Citadel as the 2nd Battalion Tactical Officer.
This interview of LTC Brace provides an in-depth look at his experiences in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. He provides first-hand accounts of life as an infantry officer in and around Baghdad at this crucial time. He details his mission, the effectiveness of the American forces in Iraq, and several other personal anecdotes that contribute to an overall understanding of his combat experience there.
Sergeant Nicholas Contestabile is an Army veteran who served as a Military Police Officer. Over the course of his service, SGT Contestabile served in various locations including Germany and Afghanistan. During his service, he participated in various military schools in addition to his time at basic training. He graduated from the prestigious Air Assault School after winning a competition that awarded a slot to attend the school. The peak of SGT Contestabile’s career came during his period of service in Afghanistan.
In this interview, SGT Contestabile recalls his period of service from basic training through his current service in the Reserves. SGT Contestabile recalls specific instances in his career that defined his unique military experience. He focuses mainly on his basic training experience, Air Assault School experience, and deployment to Afghanistan. SGT Contestabile’s time in Afghanistan was shaped by an encounter with a vehicular improved explosive device; in the interview, he describes how the ensuing repercussions affected his subsequent experience in Afghanistan. The interview attempts to relate how SGT Contestabile’s military career has influenced his life as well as how it has shaped his current educational and occupational pursuits. SGT Contestabile describes how his three years on active duty provided a foundation for his life today.
Cameron Felsher’s drive to serve started at a young age and continued into college when he decided to do something bigger than himself. Inspired by both the events following 9/11 and the war in Iraq, he left college to enlist in the Army. By joining an Airborne unit and getting deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw firsthand the war in the Middle East. His accounts of the people, the geography, and the climate he encountered help to present a clear picture of what it is like for those deployed to the region. His account of Kuwait, which is often the first place troops see when deploying to the Middle East, provides insight into the scale of the U.S. involvement in the area. His dedication to service and to his unit in particular becomes evident in this interview, which tells his story.
Hailing from the small town of Moncks Corner in South Carolina, Bill Fletcher is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant with more than 15 years of active duty experience in military law enforcement. He served honorably both in the Vietnam War and in the jungles of South America during the Panamanian conflict in the late 1970s. His unique experiences working with security forces overseas—as well as with the Green Berets—honed his skills as a warrior and as a leader of his men.
Today, Mr. Fletcher Still serves his community by placing himself in harm’s way. Mr. Fletcher is the head of the campus police at The Citadel. As for his military service, he says he “would do it all over again” if he had the opportunity. He would also recommend service for any able-bodied American willing to fight for freedom. Mr. Fletcher is an amazing man and the model of a true American hero.
David Hardie was an officer in the United States Army from 2008 to 2013. Branched as an Infantry officer, he endured some of the toughest training the United States Military has to offer, stating that Ranger School is “the number one leadership training school in the world.” As a new Infantry officer, Hardie used his Ranger Tab to prove himself to the platoon he soon commanded; they had been deployed before, and, although Hardie had not yet, this tab showed his willingness to persevere. Several years into his military service, Hardie took on even more training to become a combat advisor, a position that had him working closely with foreign militaries. Here, he learned a lot about culture and trust, as he often placed his life in the hands of these foreign soldiers.
In his five years of service, Hardie learned to adapt to and thrive in an evolving military. But Hardie’s ability to consummately adapt did not end after leaving the military. Realizing that he could build on his military experience, he has further developed his skill set by enrolling in graduate school at The Citadel. Through presenting Hardie’s story, this interview offers insight into the experiences of a young, hard-working officer who continues to work to better himself and the world around him.
In 1948, Thomas Harris was born in Elbert County, Georgia, and was then raised in Gainesville, Georgia. A normal childhood with visions of being a Rock and Roll star transformed into a life of military service at the University of North Georgia. In this interview, Lieutenant Colonel Harris speaks about how his military experience has led to the development of his impressive and diverse career path. During his 25 years of service, LTC Harris balanced a family at home with a family in the military. Even after having retired from the Army Reserves, LTC Harris continues to work in a military community with his role as the 5th Battalion TAC at The Citadel. LTC Harris was stationed overseas in Germany and has lived in a military atmosphere the majority of his life, but he also has varied work and service experiences that show just how well rounded he is. Each day LTC Harris gives back with lessons from his years of service that help demonstrate to The Citadel’s Corps of Cadets the core values of honor, duty, and respect.
During the height of World War II, the United States Army needed pilots to fly the fast and powerful P51 Mustang-D. With a remodeled Rolls Royce engine harnessing 2,000-horse power, the P51 could reach a maximum speed of 400 miles per hour. However, finding pilots to fight the Japanese Empire proved difficult. The Army was looking for men like Earl Irish.
Mr. Irish was born in Albany, New York, to parents Raymond and Della Irish. He joined the Army Air Corps at 18 with intentions of becoming a fighter pilot. He knew how intense the training was, so he prepared himself physically. However, his greatest struggle would be convincing his superiors that he would be able to successfully pass the rigorous exams for flight school. Earl Irish was competing against college graduates; he had attended only through the tenth grade. But Mr. Irish proved himself worthy of the challenge. When he finished flight school at 19, Mr. Irish was qualified to fly four aircraft during the war: The C-64 was a plane capable of taking off or landing in the water; the L-5, nicknamed the “Flying Jeep,” was used to provide supplies to the frontlines and evacuate wounded soldiers; the C-47 was a transport aircraft; and the P51 Mustang-D was a fighter. In this interview, Mr. Irish tells of many missions during his service, from transporting wounded soldiers to shooting down 12 enemy aircraft.
Command Sergeant Major (Ret.) William Harleston Lybrand Jr., of Georgetown, South Carolina, has a long family history of military service, stretching from the Revolutionary War to the current conflict in the Middle East. His father, one of Darby’s Rangers, inspired Lybrand to continue the family legacy. After graduating from Wofford College, he enlisted as an infantryman in the U.S. Army. He continued to Jump School and was then assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, where he completed Ranger School and received the prestigious Ranger Tab.
After a routine enlistment with the Rangers, Lybrand decided to pursue a career in law enforcement. He joined the South Carolina National Guard, with which he had eight deployments. In this interview, Mr. Lybrand discusses his first deployment during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and describes what it was like to be one of the first 35 men on the ground in Afghanistan. He reflections range from how he and his fellow soldiers entertained themselves during their down-time to how his experience in the military changed as he advanced from the rank of Private to Command Sergeant Major. Mr. Lybrand’s story relives comical experiences with his buddies, offers wisdom from valuable lessons he learned in leadership, and honors a friend and fellow service member with the sharing of his story.
Who would have thought that the young man who took the ASVAB in 1984 to get out of class would be the same man who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2010? Retired Master Sergeant Christopher Odom currently works here at The Citadel as a police captain in Public Safety. He did not venture too far from the law enforcement job he dedicated 24 years of his life to while in the Air Force. His stories—ranging from being a kid in Brooklyn, New York, with an occasional hot head to traveling around Italy and teaching subordinates how to remain level-headed under emergency situations—has inspired me, and I know the story of Ret. MSG Odom will inspire you as well.
Brenn Ritchie is a Marine veteran and Political Science student at The Citadel. His story speaks to many of the younger generation and offers advice for young people looking at an unsure future. After high school in Summerville, South Carolina, Brenn attended Trident Technical College to study media and web design, but found that was not the path for him. Uncertain about his future, Brenn sought out the service and joined the Marines because “if I could do the Marines, then I could do any branch.”
In the Marines Brenn found purpose and a deep pride from a sense of achievement. His time in Boot Camp on Parris Island was a struggle, but he offers encouragement for those like himself who did not enter boot camp as physically fit and prepared as others. Becoming a Marine has provided Brenn the confidence and desire to leave his hometown and seek opportunity on an international scale. Brenn served one tour in Okinawa, Japan, as a combat engineer. In the interview he delves into his experiences in another culture, which include participating in the world’s largest tug-of-war and listening to a speech by the emperor of Japan, among others. He also speaks about the day-to-day life in Boot Camp and as a combat engineer in Japan. After completing his degree at The Citadel, Brenn plans to venture out into the world and work for an international non-governmental organization or for the U.S. Department of State’s international aid programs.
Born and raised in Warner Robins, Georgia, Staff Sergeant Alfonso Rogers was from a young age very familiar with the Air Force. After graduating from high school in 2002, he would promptly go on to attend Georgia Southern University for two years, and then would decide to enlist in the United States Air Force. But Staff Sergeant Rogers was soon to realize that he had just left school for more school. He entered as a young Airman and emerged a fully qualified loadmaster on the C-17A, completing seven years of active duty service.
Today, he serves as a Reservist as he pursues his undergraduate degree in Sports Administration at The Citadel with the hope of becoming either an NBA official or an Athletic Director. In this interview, Staff Sergeant Rogers discusses the true nature if his experience growing up, the mentors who influenced his life, the family he has at home as well as his extended family in the Air Force, and the passion and path God has revealed to him. His story shows the many ways that he wishes to make a difference.
Born in Auburn, Alabama, Ben Wham began his working career as a Scoop Jockey at Baskin Robbins. In an effort to escape having his parents as his professors, Colonel Wham opted out of attending the University of Auburn, and instead matriculated with the class of 1986 at The Citadel, where he received an Air Force Scholarship. Upon graduation, Colonel Wham was assigned to his first duty station at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. From there, Colonel Wham received duty stations in Spain, Ohio, Colorado Springs, Korea, Hawaii, Washington D.C., Iraq, Idaho, South Carolina, and Afghanistan, where he led military and civilian engineers and managed multimillion-dollar engineering projects.
In the early part of his career, Colonel Wham got married and began a family; he is the proud father of two daughters. After a military career where he was awarded three Bronze Stars, Colonel Wham retired from the Air Force on January 1, 2013. Following a brief period in the civilian sector with the Architecture and Engineering firm Davis & Floyd, Colonel Wham wanted again to serve. As a result, he left Davis & Floyd and sought a new position in which he could give back to the community. In August 2013, he was hired as the Associate Vice President for Engineering and Facilities at The Citadel. In this interview, Colonel Wham shares his experiences as an Engineering Commander during both wartime and peacetime. Through his dedication and passion, Colonel Wham sets an exemplary precedent for what it means to be a Citadel Alumnus and Air Force Officer.