Interview of Ahmet Arda by Eduardo Hernandez-Cruz
April 27, 2017
Ahmet B. Arda: Scholar and Soldier
Born March 9, 1987, Ahmet B. Arda immigrated to the United States with his parents and older brother from Turkey in 1998. The family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when Ahmet was about 11; it remains a place he remembers fondly. “My whole childhood, I grew up in the woods and on the beaches of North Carolina, climbing, fishing.” He didn’t know English when he first moved to the US; as he put it, he had to “learn it the hard way,” having to work it out for himself in class. After graduating from high school, he joined the Marines.
Both Ahmet and his older brother joined the United States Marines, but they are far from the first men in their families to be in the military. The Arda family has a long history of military service. Great-grandparents, grandparents and his father worked in different branches of the military in Turkey. It was an “unspoken thing” that men in the family would serve, and Ahmet and his brother gladly took up the tradition.
Ahmet was specifically pulled towards the Marines. His brother was already old enough and had enlisted. Having spent much of his time with his brother and his brother’s friends, Ahmet already had an idea of what life in the Marines was like. Along with close family members, the Arda family also had several neighbors in the Marines. He grew up near Camp Lejeune, an important Marine Corps base located between Wilmington and Morehead City in North Carolina. All of these factors had a huge influence on his decision to join the US Marines.
In the Marines, Ahmet served in the 4th Marine Logistics Group; he was stationed in North Carolina and Illinois and then deployed to Iraq. Of those three Wilmington, North Carolina, was the one he remembered most fondly. “I’m always biased towards my North Carolina home since that was my first station,” Ahmet recalled. “That’s where my reserve station was, and all of us who were in that reserve station were very tight together because that reserve station later disbanded and moved on to another place. All of us who are ‘Original Wilmington Reservists’ have a special bond.”
But it wasn’t just in North Carolina that Ahmet made personal connections with fellow Marines. Ahmet met his wife, Jae, through the Marines, and stayed in Chicago to be with her. “We met before my second deployment. We had a little deal: She got a state grant to go to school in Illinois, and when she received her bachelor’s degree, we’d get to move to where I wanted to go.” This was what led them to eventually settle in Charleston.
Ahmet saw active duty in two separate deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom, a US-led international effort in Iraq, guarding convoys. They protected civilian cargo (such as water, food, and mail), which was usually delivered by American contractors, as they travelled from one base to another. Often after delivering cargo, they would transport detainees back from the front lines to counterintelligence officers. He does not remember it as fondly as his other experiences in the Marines. “Well, it sucked,” Ahmet said bluntly. “There’s no good way to put it. In midday, it hit over one hundred twenty degrees.”
Guarding convoys all day, the most persistent opponents he encountered were not enemy combatants, but the heat and the threat of dehydration. “It doesn’t matter how much water you drink, you’re constantly dehydrated.” But that didn’t mean there weren’t other dangers Marines like Ahmet faced in Iraq. Describing convoy security as “stressful,” Ahmet made it clear that the threat of attack was all too real: “All your officers tell you it’s very dangerous. You get intel saying ‘This convoy got blown up today, so we could be next.’ There’s always that stress on you.” But the bonds between Marines in a unit run deep, so even in those troubled times he was comforted to know that his fellow Marines had his back.
His second deployment to Iraq was much less stressful. There he ran a helicopter landing pad at the Marine Corps base in Al-Taqaddum which, at the time, was the second-largest Marine base in Iraq. His duty involved tracking all of the people and cargo that went in and out. This was more to Ahmet’s strong suit: “That, I could say, was actually fun, actually doing my job, and all the technical things that came with that. It was stressful in a different way compared to my first deployment. I was lucky enough to see both of those and experience them. It was fantastic.”
Before coming to The Citadel, Ahmet tried to settle into civilian life through community college, but found that it wasn’t for him. “It was a fantastic school; it just doesn’t compare to The Citadel,” he said. “The education was good. But the people make all the difference. I’m still a Marine at heart, a Carolina boy at heart. For me to come to The Citadel where we have a decent population of veterans, and also couple that with Carolina life, compared to 100% civilian community college in Chicago...this is where I belong, you know? It just feels better, I feel more at home, more comfortable asking for help, more comfortable every day.” And so he made The Citadel his academic home. Currently, Ahmet is working towards an undergraduate degree in Biology at The Citadel in order to research diseases and biological weapons.
Ahmet hasn’t disconnected with any part of his past. He still speaks Turkish fluently with his parents and elder brother. His wife, Jae, is also making an effort on her own to learn Turkish. Ahmet still keeps in touch with the friends he’s made through his career, from those he met at the very beginning in Marine boot camp up to those he served with in Iraq. And he still spends his off time much the same way he did growing up: fishing, hunting, and relaxing with friends.
Even among veterans, Ahmet’s life has been extraordinarily colorful. Sitting down and talking to him, I was able to get a glimpse of several different perspectives: of an immigrant, of a soldier, of a student. But I don’t think any of those labels encompass entirely who Ahmet is or the experience of talking to him. For a man who has had so many experiences, he remains humble, easy to talk to, and good-humored. As he said in his own words, Ahmet is a Carolina boy at heart.