Pulitzer Prize winner speaks about Iraqi experience

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Students at K-State are in a completely different world than the students who are also former soldiers. Many students do not think of the trauma, honor or everyday occurrences that take place while soldiers are on duty in a war zone.

Pulitzer Prize winner, David Finkel, author of “The Good Soldiers,” spoke at K-State on Thursday in an effort to tell the story of a battalion posted in Iraq.

“I’ve talked about this book across the country; I’ve gotten to talk about this in Australia, India, and Paris,” Finkel said. “This is special, maybe because it is so close to home.”

Finkel was embedded with the 216th battalion in Iraq at the beginning of the surge in 2007 and said he took a leave of absence from his job at the Washington Post in order to write the book. The writer said he found the process of writing the book to be a meaningful experience because he got to see an important story as it was occurring.

“I didn’t want to be ghoulish, but I wanted to see what happened to a young man sent into such a consequential moment,” Finkel said. “It wasn’t a brave thing. Once I got there and got scared it was idiotic, but I got to witness it.”

Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, commander of the battalion Finkel was embedded with, also spoke to the audience, and said his first interview with Finkel was accidental, but Finkel wanted to write an article about Kauzlarich’s unit.

“Days later we met to make a covenant,” Kauzlarich said. “I gave him access as long as he would portray in proper context what was happening. It was about trust.”

Finkel said he decided to write the book after the battalion commander suggested Finkel write a story about how the unit was affected by the deployment to Iraq. Kauzlarich said he was glad the soldiers’ story was told because of the comprehensive portrayal.

As part of the lecture, Finkel read several excerpts from his book, ranging in content from a story about talking with the wife of a disabled soldier, to a recollection of a deceased soldier.

The battalion lost 14 soldiers over the course of their deployment in Iraq, and several others had major injuries.

“Not every day was bad; these guys had a rough deployment,” Finkel said. “They were just guys being guys; 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds screwing around, having fun, being idiotic.”

Lynnsey Webb, junior in public relations, recalled Finkel’s depictions of soldiers who had lost their legs or arms, and one who was paralyzed.

“Hearing about all the injuries was interesting because that sounded so severe,” Webb said. “I don’t even know how they’d function the rest of life with those injuries.”

Sgt. Sharon Elias, member of the 216th battalion, had Finkel sign a copy of his book after the lecture. Elias praised Finkel’s work.

“It really captured what we went through; it really did,” Elias said. “When I picked it up it only took me three hours to read it, I was on an airplane and it really took me back to Iraq.”

Finkel spoke at the end of the lecture about how difficult it was to go out on patrol with the soldiers, and how he was trying to write a book that told the truth and did not argue a political agenda.

“To the soldiers here, you know what happened, you know what it was like,” Finkel said. “For those of you here maybe it describes it a little bit.”

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