Beyond the headlines: The face of war by Sherry Bithell
A proud military tradition has always been part of Virginia Tech, and countless alumni have served their country throughout the decades. The recent war in Iraq was no exception. Reports are still trickling in from Hokies who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, many of whom are still stationed overseas and facing the ongoing hostilities. Here are the stories of just a few alumni who have experienced firsthand the realities of this war.

A bird's-eye view

Air Force Maj. Philip Malebranche (aerospace engineering '90) has flown the unfriendly skies in his F-16 Falcon since going on active duty directly out of Tech, including combat missions over Serbia during Operation Allied Force. However, he served his most recent tour of duty--Operation Iraqi Freedom--in a bird of a different feather: the Navy's FA-18 Hornet.

Malebranche is part of an Air Force-Navy exchange program in which selected pilots from one branch serve for a time in the other. During the Iraq war, Malebranche was a member of the Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 87, stationed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which, along with the USS Harry S. Truman, supported special operations forces in Northern Iraq. The fighter squadrons conducted air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, protecting Allied ground forces by dropping laser- and satellite-guided bombs and shooting high-speed, anti-radiation missiles.

Right: Self-portrait of Maj. Philip Malebranche (and his wingman), taken during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The difference between the Air Force and the Navy, Malebranche says, was most noticeable at the end of one of his four- to five-hour shifts. "In the Air Force, we take off and land on a runway that doesn't ever move or rock or isn't as crowded--and you don't get catapulted off a ship," he laughs.

Although the launches were fun, he says, "you never get comfortable landing aboard the ship. It gets to the point where it may be a little fun during the day, but at night, every single [attempt] is scary and gut wrenching. I had one or two nights that were pretty bad, where you get waved off, then on the next two passes I miss the wires, then I have to re-fuel again. It was a nightmare.

"Everybody watches the landings--we call it danger TV. People grab popcorn and chairs and settle down to watch. So if you want reality television, come land on board ship with me!"

As for the reality of the war, "you can't really call combat 'routine,'" Malebranche says. "It's something we obviously train for, but there are so many variables that it's never routine. We go in and execute like we train, but then you throw in the added factor of the 'bad guys.' The missions are very long--it's basically hours of boredom with a few minutes of sheer terror."

Malebranche's biggest reality check came while communicating with special operations forces on the ground. "I'm up in my nice cockpit and I'm hearing a guy who's been eating bugs for three weeks," he says. "[There were times] you could tell by his voice that he's in trouble, that he needs us to drop our bombs on target. He's saying, 'I've got Iraqi artillery all around me,' and I know I'm the only support he's got. For me to be able to help him out and hear the relief in his voice afterward was amazing."

A different world

From the moment Air Force 2nd Lt. Krishna Saddler (business '02) arrived in Iraq, she saw the difference between training for duty and experiencing it firsthand. In a June 17 e-mail, Saddler wrote, "I remember getting off a C-130 while the engines were running and being told to hurry off the back ramp of the plane. I saw bombed-out buildings, Iraqi planes, and vehicles. Let's just say it wasn't the beautiful hills of Southwest Virginia."

Saddler's first combat duty amazed her, she wrote, because "you never really realize how much work, time, and planning go into fighting a war. It just doesn't end when the war is officially over, either. People are still here working to help the people of the country, to stabilize it, and to make it better. It's totally different seeing it unfold on the news versus dealing with it firsthand and meeting the many people who are involved and affected."

As a communications and information systems officer in the 5th Combat Communication Group that forms the 407th AEG/ECS (Air Expeditionary Group/ Expeditionary Communications Squadron) in Tallil, Saddler helps provide enlisted personnel with access to the Internet, international phone calls, and Air Force network television. "We have stories of people traveling miles to use our facilities. It is a satisfying feeling when your work allows military members to call home and handle personal issues from thousands of miles away," she wrote.

It's totally different seeing it unfold on the news versus dealing with it firsthand and meeting the many people who are involved and affected," says Sadler.

As a commissioned officer, Saddler noted, she relies heavily on her corps of cadets training. "The obvious is dealing with large amounts of stress and learning time management. Being healthy physically and mentally is another lesson I learned in the corps--you are no good to your people if you can't take care of yourself."

Saddler says her corps leadership experience also helps make her life easier. "Being in leadership positions, from cadre to company commander, helped me to deal with subordinates [who are] your peers. That's the awkwardness of being an officer sometimes, when you are younger than the highest-ranking enlisted member in your organization. But I learned that if you take care of your people, they will take care of you and the mission."

Saddler expects to remain in Iraq until later this year, although she hopes that if the deployment cycles stabilize, she'll be able to return earlier. Still, she wrote, "I know at this moment I'm doing something I love, which is to make a difference and serve my country. I want to learn my position and do the best job I can."

Nadig Army 1st Lt. Lars Nadig '00 leads soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, during a dawn raid of one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces in Baghdad.

Everyday heroes

Navy Cmdr. Michael Jabaley Jr. (M.E.A. '97) took the helm of the USS Louisville, a fast-attack submarine designed to carry out multiple missions, on May 24, 2002. Since then, he says, "It's been an amazing ride."

The Louisville left its home port of Pearl Harbor on Sept. 10, 2002. Because of the difference in time zones, Jabaley says, "the moment we deployed was 10 hours away from being one year to the minute after the first Sept. 11 attack."

The sub crew was fully prepared to see action because of the escalating tensions in the Middle East. "My philosophy is that we have a military so we don't have to use it," Jabaley says. "But if you do get called into action, it's a great sense of personal satisfaction when you do well what you've been trained for."

The Louisville played a crucial role during the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early March by launching Tomahawk missile strikes in support of coalition forces. "Tomahawks are very accurate, small, and precise, and they pack a punch," Jabaley says. "They degrade both the Iraqi capability to resist our ground troops and the Iraqi air defense so our pilots don't have any undue risk."

The war's quick end was a surprise, he adds, and the crew of the Louisville was grateful to "get the hook" sooner than expected, returning to port on May 13, 246 days after their initial deployment.

"It's always a joyous occasion to return home," Jabaley says, noting that being stationed at Pearl Harbor has special meaning for him. "If you have any sense of history, this is the place to be if you're a submariner. This is where the Pacific war was started [in 1941] and the port from which it was won. Nothing compares to being able to walk on the same piers my heroes did."

As for today's heroes, Jabaley denies that his service is anything different from the duties conducted by all military servicemen and women. "They are always in harm's way, whether during a conflict or not. There are always people out there participating in ongoing [operations]. Although [war] gets a lot more attention, there are still things going on in the military every day that have as much of an impact."

Many of those everyday heroes seem to be Hokies, Jabaley adds. "Virginia Tech seems to have a disproportionate number of alumni in the military, which is something the university should be very proud of." Case in point: the Louisville's new executive officer, Richard Alsop (ocean engineering '90). As of late May, Jabaley had not yet met Alsop, but said, "I already know he's okay because he's a Hokie."

Hamilton, Millet, Seaver Kentucky Air National Guard 165th Airlift Squadron pilots Lt. Col. Greg Hamilton '84, Maj. Phil Millett '88, and Maj. Dave Seaver '89 are shown here in Saudi Arabia in April.

Living the spirit of Ut Prosim

It has been said that Tech graduates remember the university's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), for life, and Army Capt. Mark Sherkey (business '95) attests that the motto has been his guide during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sherkey has commanded two artillery batteries in the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) throughout the Iraqi conflict: the "Lightning battery," the headquarters and service battery of the 3rd Battalion 320th Field Artillery, during combat operations and the C/1-377th Field Artillery's "Crusader battery," stationed in Mosul. since the war was declared over.

"Since the start of the war, Ut Prosim has been a rallying [phrase] for these two batteries," Sherkey wrote in a letter in early July. Although the coalition soldiers have been faced with temperatures ranging well over 115 degrees and rough living conditions, he noted that "we are used to extreme conditions and adversity and take great pride in knowing that we will overcome any hardships along this journey."

Helping to sustain the soldiers' morale were more than 40 packages--including toiletry items, food, and letters--from the Middle Tennessee Virginia Tech Alumni Association chapter to Sherkey's two command units. "I could not be more proud of a body of people than I am of my soldiers and this Virginia Tech alumni chapter," he wrote. "The [chapter] epitomizes the meaning of Ut Prosim. Their efforts sustained two combat units with comfort items during critical moments when mail was one of few motivating factors."

Sherkey asks all alumni to remember the soldiers who remain in Iraq, many of whom have missed births, birthdays, and anniversaries, and been notified of deaths in the family, as well as those who have died in service to their country.

"I have never forgotten our eight pylons that stand on the War Memorial or the names, etched in stone, of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom," Sherkey wrote. "Each word I cherish, and I am proud to be associated with and to represent these two institutions, Virginia Tech and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), for each believes in high standards and serving others: Honor, Brotherhood, Leadership, Loyalty, Service, Sacrifice, Duty, and, most appropriately, Ut Prosim."

A return to service

ChavezAfter graduating from Virginia Tech, Carol Chavez (history '90) was commissioned as a supply officer at Reese AFB in Lubbock, Texas, and served in the Air Force for 10 years. In July 2000, however, she decided to try life as a civilian and took a job at McKesson Corp., a healthcare management and products company in Richmond, although she did join the Virginia Air National Guard [VANG] part-time.

Chavez's foray into the private sector ended on Sept. 11. At the time of the terrorist attacks, Chavez was in Puerto Rico on a trip she had earned from McKesson for creating a sales forecasting system. After hearing of the attacks, she says, she "called in [to the VANG] and said I'd do whatever I could." A month later, she was reactivated for full-time duty at the VANG as an aircraft maintenance officer.

"For the first nine months after Sept. 11, we were pretty busy with two missions," Chavez recalls. "One was an alert mission, where we were on duty 24 hours a dayif anything happened, we'd launch our planes. The second was an aircraft patrol that flew over the White House, the Capitol building, and all the monuments for four to five hours at a time.

Chavez's post-Sept. 11 duties were quite different from those she had known before. "The aircraft we were launching were loaded with live weapons, and we'd never flown [from our home base] with live weapons before. That was one of the big issues I had to deal with, making sure we were abiding by all the safety regulations. I got quite a lot of experience with that because the airport [Richmond International] we were flying from was not designed to have live weapons."

In July 2002, Chavez's VANG unit was de-activated, but her group commander asked her to remain with the unit to help with its transition. She stayed full-time for another year, during which she was promoted to squadron commander.

Today, she is once again a financial analyst at McKesson, which not only welcomed her back with open arms, but reinstated her at a higher level. "They're an incredibly supportive employer," says Chavez, who still serves as squadron commander for the VANG one weekend a month.

Nearly three years later, Chavez still doesn't regret her decision to return to full-time duty. "I'm thankful I could help. I wouldn't trade that additional year-and-a-half that I served for anything."

Corps loses one of its own

Qui ante diem periit; Sed miles, sed pro patria.
Who died far away, before his time: but as a soldier, for his country.

--Sir Henry Newbolt
On April 7, Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets alumnus Army 1st Lt. Jeffrey J. Kaylor (management science '01) was killed while leading his platoon in Iraq. Col. Thomas Banasik, head of Army ROTC at Tech, says, "Jeff was a magnificent cadet, an absolutely outstanding leader, and a role model for both cadets and soldiers. He left a legacy of excellence."

In July 2002, Kaylor married fellow cadet 1st Lt. Jenna Cosbey Kaylor (business information technology '01) just a few weeks before shipping out on a regular rotation in Kuwait. Jenna Kaylor was serving with her army unit in Kuwait at the time of her husband's death.

Krishna Saddler (business '02), one of Jeffrey Kaylor's "buds," wrote that her friend "always kept me smiling with his antics and he will be truly missed. When I think of him, I only smile because of all the memories. He was athletic, outspoken, and an all-around wonderful guy."

The reality of losing her friend truly hit home for Saddler on Memorial Day, when the soldiers stationed in Iraq built a makeshift plywood memorial for those who had died during Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Seeing [Jeff's] name on it put my life into perspective. How much must you love your country to sacrifice your life protecting it, to make a difference in this world? We as Americans are truly blessed."

The corps of cadets held several tributes in Kaylor's honor in early April, including posting a wreath at the War Memorial and holding a midnight formation in front of the War Memorial chapel and a formal retreat ceremony on the Upper Quad.

The corps also has established the Jeffrey J. Kaylor Memorial Emerging Leader Scholarship; donations are welcome. Work is underway to memorialize Kaylor on the Ut Prosim War Memorial pylon. He will be the 489th alumnus so honored.

Jeffrey Kaylor was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on April 23.

Right: Jenna Kaylor '01 kneels by the marker at her husband’s tree.

Kaylor at tree