Iraq vet brings the war home for Madras 7th-graders

Spc. Crowley says he’s proud of military’s work

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: June 14. 2007 5:00AM PST

MADRAS — Standing in front of a seventh-grade social studies class at Jefferson County Middle School on Wednesday, Spc. Bryan Crowley, of the Oregon Army National Guard, held up a piece of shrapnel he brought back from Iraq.

“I’ll let you guys pass that around, but please don’t toss it to anybody or pretend like you’re cutting your friends, because it will really not feel good,” Crowley said.

Crowley was visiting the class, which his wife, Maria, teaches, to talk to the students about his experiences in Iraq. His roughly hourlong talk touched on topics including roadside bomb explosions, the death of a fellow soldier and the abject living conditions he observed in the country.

Throughout the classes, Crowley spoke matter of factly about the harder facts of life in Iraq.

“This was my friend … He was the only one (from our unit) out there that didn’t come back,” Crowley said, displaying a digital photo on a large screen in the front of the room. “He was killed when he parked over an IED. He was a good guy.”

But he also said he was proud of much of the work he did as a member of the U.S. military there.

“If you watch the TV a lot, you just see a lot of bad things; You see how people die, and the war isn’t going so well,” he said. “Well, if you were over there you would see schools being built and communities coming together, and hospitals being built and kids not dying because of an infection because they stepped on a thorn.”

Crowley, 26, who was deployed to Iraq with the Redmond-based G Troop 82nd Cavalry, was in Iraq from December 2004 to November 2005. He and Maria, 29, were married in November 2004, while he was home from training. Last year, he spoke to the entire student body about his experiences in Iraq during an assembly at Jefferson County Middle School.

On Wednesday, the day before Flag Day, he addressed all six of Maria Crowley’s classes.

During his talk, Crowley emphasized the difficult living conditions he witnessed in Iraq and how luxurious they made life in the United States seem.

“That’s one thing I really try to touch on, that what they think they don’t have is absolutely no comparison to the kids over there,” he said after the presentation.

Abby Scott, one of the students who heard Crowley’s talk, said she got that message.

“It made me feel guilty for, like, all the stuff that I have,” Abby, 13, said. “It kind of taught me not to take for granted what I have.”

In addition to the photos, Crowley played a few videos that he shot while in Iraq. One showed troops detonating a roadside improvised explosive device, which elicited gasps of “Whoa,” “Sweet,” and “Cool!” from the students.

Crowley was involved in a Humvee accident while in Iraq, when his vehicle was hit by an IED. The explosion knocked him unconscious and he is now on disability from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs because of problems with his short-term memory, he said.

“When my unit came back from Iraq, slowly people started having problems like bad dreams, bad shoulder, bad back,” he said. “What they’re finding out is that when a large explosion goes off close by you, the shockwave from the explosion goes through you and affects people in different ways.”

He displayed a photo of a piece of glass from a Humvee set next to a Gatorade bottle, which demonstrated the thickness of the glass.

“This is a picture of the pane of glass that saved my life,” he said.

The students also tried on Crowley’s helmet and vest, which he pointed out would be about 30 pounds heavier if all the armor were still in it.

The seventh-graders listened attentively through Crowley’s talk, asking questions along the way.

Justin Cleveland, 13, asked Crowley if “there was ever a situation where you were really, really scared.”

“Yeah, I had people shooting at me at nighttime, and when you have people shooting you at night, it kind of freaks you out because you can hear the bullets go by, but you can’t do anything about it,” Crowley answered.

Maria Crowley said she thinks her students get a lot out of hearing from a veteran like her husband. Additionally, she pointed out to them that they had recently been studying the ancient history of Mesopotamia, the area that includes modern-day Iraq.

“They learn more about different areas of the world, and they learn that, while they think their lives are bad, they’re not,” she said.

Jae Jensen, another of Crowley’s students, said she enjoyed the talk.

“I thought it was really neat to hear about this from someone who actually experienced it, because you see it on the news and it kind of seems really irrelevant to your own life and it seems really far away,” Jae, 13, said. “But when you see your teacher’s husband talk about it, it makes it real and it makes you appreciate America.”

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