Why serve? Student veterans spurred by Sept. 11 tragedy

Sep 17 2011 - 12:16am

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KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
(From left) Adam Berman, Jennifer Carver and Nick Nava participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
(From left) Adam Berman, Jennifer Carver and Nick Nava participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Adam Berman (left) and Jennifer Carver participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
(From left) Adam Berman, Jennifer Carver and Nick Nava participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
(From left) Adam Berman, Jennifer Carver and Nick Nava participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Adam Berman (left) and Jennifer Carver participate in a Friday forum featuring student military veterans to conclude Constitution Week at Weber State University in Ogden.

OGDEN -- Jennifer Carver and Nick Nava avoided watching television Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Adam Berman turned his TV on and saw the coverage, then slept away the rest of the day.

It is all too real for the three Weber State University students, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It reminds me of all my friends who have died since 9/11," said Carver, 27. "9/11 was just the beginning. The deaths are still going on."

Berman, Carver and Nava spoke Friday as part of WSU's Constitution Week. The topic was why the three risked their lives to defend the Constitution. All three said the September 2001 terrorist attack was the main reason they enlisted.

"I was pissed," said Carver, an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. "I don't tolerate bullies who kill innocent people."

Nava, 39, served with the Army National Guard in Iraq.

"I waited two years after 9/11, but it was still a big part of my motivation," he said.

Berman said he and other Clearfield High JROTC members enlisted the day of the attacks.

"A recruiter came and we enlisted, all 17 of us," said Berman, 27, who served in the Army National Guard in Afghanistan.

Carver said the role of the military is misunderstood.

"It's not all about violence, it's about helping other people," she said. "We are there to protect people, but we don't back down when a threat presents itself."

Berman said he was at a 30-person base in April when word came that people in a nearby Afghan town were planning a suicide attack. Patrolling in town, Berman and his fellow soldiers encountered a boy, about 12, who hurled grenades at them, then ran. The soldiers scattered, unhurt. Minutes later, Berman and his group spotted their attacker at a youth volleyball game.

"The decision we made was, 'Let's go play volleyball,'aa" Berman said. "We played for hours, and we sent for water for the group. By establishing relations with the kids, we made their parents like us. Months later, those kids were still coming to the base, asking for water or if we could come play volleyball."

Carver said locals in Iraq often questioned her about America's First Amendment.

"They were curious about whether we were really able to practice whatever religion we wanted, and if we could say what we wanted to a large crowd without military police dragging us away."

Berman recalled a doctor near his base who kept helping people register to vote even though police shot up his house and burned his clinic. The doctor then met people in prearranged places around town. On election day, he drove groups to the polls and helped them clean off the purple ink from their fingers, put there to signify they had voted. The sight of purple ink on fingers on election day can cause voters to be killed or persecuted, Berman said.

"In America, people don't vote because they're busy or they forgot to register. There, voting for president is the biggest thing they have ever done in their lives."

The trio admitted that many veterans return with unresolved issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. All three on the panel said they are divorced, and Nava noted that the military has a high suicide rate.

A WSU official said some veterans return with traumatic brain injuries, and many prefer not to talk about their wartime experiences. Almost 650 veterans attend WSU on the G.I. Bill, and the total number of veterans at Weber State is about 2,000.

All three panelists said despite the hardships of military service, they returned with a better understanding of other cultures and more tolerance for people with different opinions.

"I support First Amendment rights, but you might not want to burn a flag in front of me," Carver said with a laugh.

And all three have chosen majors based in part on insights they gained during the war. Berman is studying political science, and considering a minor in Asian studies. Nava is studying communications, hoping to deliver news accurately and without bias. And Carver is studying to become a social worker.

"I want to teach people to be a better version of themselves," she said.

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