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Citadel News Service
27 Aug 2006

War breaks out before cadet's eyes

By Cadet Lt. Col. Brian DuBois
Regimental Academic Officer

Departing Beirut on our way to Byblos the day after the bombing started, we saw the smoke plumes from the burning fuels dumps at the airport from our convoy.

While studying abroad this summer I found myself in the middle of a war that has come to dominate the news cycles. As part of the Citadel Summer Scholarship Program, the school provided me with the opportunity to study Arabic at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

As most military personnel will remember, Beirut was the infamous location of the Marine Barracks bombing in 1983, so when I told professors, classmates, family and friends that I was traveling to Beirut to study, more often than not, their response was one of concern and doubt. Little did I know upon my arrival in June what I would experience.

When I arrived in Beirut, I was pleasantly surprised how generous the Lebanese people are and how open they are to accepting Americans into their culture. My university, located in Hamra in Western Beirut, was surround by busy neighborhoods with local shops and restaurants as well as high end businesses and hotels. Unlike other cities in the region, like Damascus and Aleppo, Beirut was far more modern due to the necessity of having to rebuild after the civil war. Though the city still had bombed out and bullet hole riddled buildings, major businesses like Sheraton Hotels, Virgin Records, and even American restaurants such as TGI Friday’s had brought new life to the city, making it a favorite tourism spot. Downtown, every night the streets were packed with people eating at the various restaurants cheering for their favorite World Cup team, and on several occasions I was asked to settle disputes between football fanatics over who would win overall, France or Italy. There was an energy that traveled through the streets keeping them alive well throughout the night. Unfortunately, the rebirth of Beirut and the excitement I was experiencing was short lived.

Climbing through the Northern Mountains of Lebanon, we could see the Lebanese military on one side and on the other side the infamous Bekaa Valley known for its training camps for terrorist organizations.

After the capturing and killing of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah on July 12, and the bombings that were a result, the attitude of the city changed. It started after the bombing of the airport Thursday morning. Those in northern Beirut began cursing Hezbollah for what they had brought upon the country. As memories of the devastating civil war resurfaced in the minds of the adults, new memories were being branded into the minds of the children. Some locals began packing up their cars and heading north, while others began clearing off the grocery shelves for fear that the blockade would soon suffocate the city.

The university moved us to a satellite campus 20 km north of the city in the town of Byblos the Friday after the bombings started. As we drove past the bus station, mobs swarmed the buses before they could even pull into the station. Traffic on the highways outside of the city was jammed with cars packed well over capacity. The once peaceful tourist destination spot with the lively locals and fun nightlife had started to become a ghost town. No longer would people travel at night for fear of becoming collateral damage during an evening raid.

After southern Beirut became a target of Israeli sorties and the blockades started to cut off resources, the anti-Hezbollah attitudes some Lebanese had dissipated. I saw Hezbollah flags flying in Hamra, and classmates reported seeing Hezbollah fighters cheering and traveling through parts of town that traditionally did not support the group. The mood toward Hezbollah changed, whether it was because the supporters were the only ones left or the hatred towards Israel won out, Hezbollah began to gain more and more support with every passing day.

We were evacuated on a Norwegian cargo ship with more than 1,000 Lebanese refugees. Families packed the decks of the ship with all the belongings they could carry.

Evacuating as the war escalated was a trying experience. During the first few days, we heard a lot of nothing from the embassy and State Department. We received daily of updates with vague information via email. Then on a Tuesday afternoon our group received the phone call: “You have 30 minutes to pack up.” While I did not know it at the time, our ticket out of the war zone was a Norwegian cargo ship leaving from Beirut.

We returned to Beirut for evacuation. The city had transformed from a place of mass exodus to a desolate war zone. The bus station was empty, there was very little traffic leaving the city, and no one was entering the city. The streets were quiet except for the military personnel and those trying to leave on government vessels. I didn’t truly understand how poor the situation was until I saw all the families, or in this case refugees, leaving home with nothing but the clothes on their back and the bags in their hands.

The question I am asked most now that I am home is “Were you scared?” Anyone who says they weren’t scared was probably either lying or did not understand the seriousness of situation.

Yes, I was scared, however, my understanding of the situation and my experience living in a stressful and challenging environment here at The Citadel had better prepared me to handle the fear and the conditions we were living in. In a way, the bombs I heard sounded eerily similar to those cannons we hear at every afternoon parade. The lessons I learned and the experiences I had within Beirut were experiences I would not have had anywhere else. It was an excellent learning experience that came at an expense all too high for the people of Beirut, but using what I learn will help me better understand the region as well as inform classmates of the on going struggles we all may see in the Middle East.

Cadet Lt. Col. Brian E. DuBois, 21, is a senior from Atlanta majoring in political science. A Star of the West Fellow, he traveled to Lebanon this summer to study abroad. Cadet DuBois provided the photos from his personal collection.

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