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CNNU: War hits home for some, remains remote for others

By Joel Christian Ballezza
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based. This contributor is Joel Christian Ballezza, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Young adults facing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling with emotions that range from ambivalence to profound anger and sorrow.

"It's been in the news, and I think about it, but it doesn't personally affect me," said Corrina Waxman, 21, a film student at Purchase College, a small liberal arts school just north of New York City.

However, others carry the experience of their own wartime service or the heartache for friends lost.

"A year ago I was outraged," said Jamie Bowers-Defino, 23, a recent graduate from Purchase and a museum administrator now living in Los Angeles. "Now I'm just bitter."

Bowers-Defino and Army Spc. Anthony Kalladeen studied and worked together as resident assistants at Purchase. Kalladeen later was called up for service in Iraq with the Army National Guard.

While wrapping up his second tour of duty in August 2005, Kalladeen was struck by a roadside bomb and died the following day from his injuries.

The conflict in Iraq "didn't strike me as a war that was affecting people in my life," Bowers-Defino said. "Now, when I hear 'Iraq' and 'soldier,' you could have just been saying Anthony's name." (A complete list of soldiers who have died in the war)

Since the draft was dissolved in 1973 and the military was converted into an all-volunteer force, young adults no longer live with anxiety over the prospect of mandatory service.

Nevertheless, the war weighs on the minds of young adults far from the front lines.

The average age of a active duty soldier has stayed relatively stable, at around 21, but the average age for the Army Reserve has dropped.

In 2001 it was 23.7, while the average Army Reservist today is just 20.6 years old, said S. Douglas Smith, an Army public affairs officer.

"I spend more time reading the news," said Matt Van Etten, 26, a graduate student at the University of Washington when asked about the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Van Etten said, "It's alarming that as Americans we're not made to change our lives."

Brian Hillary, 23, an environmental advocate from Buffalo, New York, questioned why leaders haven't asked for more from everyday Americans.

"As an individual, I don't think I've been asked to sacrifice anything," he said.

However, with classmates and friends in the military, Hillary noted, "None of us are unaffected."

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, recently ignited a debate on the issue of shared sacrifice when he promised to introduce legislation that would reinstate the draft.

Rangel, a Korean War veteran, argued the United States wouldn't have invaded Iraq if a draft had existed and that the conflict forces the burden of fighting onto the shoulders of America's poor, who are more likely to join a volunteer force.

In 2003, Rangel proposed legislation calling on national service of some kind for all men and women between 18 and 26, but the bill was soundly defeated.

There is little support for Rangel's current initiative, even in from his own party. (Full story)

This political reality may safeguard young adults resistant to compulsory military service, but leave the high-risk task of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an all-volunteer military some critics fear is being spread too thin.


Army Spc. Anthony Kalldeen died in August 2005 from injuries sustained in a roadside bombing in Baghdad.


• Audio slide show: War families
• Gallery: Welcome back
• I-Reports: Salute to troops


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