Iraq war: South Shore family and soldier look back after three years |

Iraq war: South Shore family and soldier look back after three years

William Ferchland
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Tyler Blauvelt, 23, a former Marine sergeant who served in Iraq, now attends Lake Tahoe Community College to pursue a degree in engineering.

Three years ago today the U.S.-led invasion into Iraq began and three years later the lives of several South Shore residents have never been the same.

From parents, such as Peggy Thompson, having a son serving in the war zone puts her a little on edge. Tyler Blauvelt prefers the confines of Lake Tahoe Community College to a base on desert land frequently bombarded with enemy fire.

“Things have definitely changed for us here,” said Thompson, whose 21-year-old son, Nick Aguilar, is serving his first tour in Iraq.

Aguilar is slated to be on an air base for the six-month tour he started in February. It’s a comforting bit of information for Thompson.

“I really feel for families who don’t know exactly where their loved ones are,” she said. “At least I know he’s on this air base and that is just a huge, huge thing for me.”

One of Thompson’s main concerns is the likeliness of civil war erupting in Iraq between the Sunnis and the Shiites. The two main factions in Iraq approached a domestic dispute after a major Shiite Muslim shrine was destroyed.

If that happens, Thompson is worried about the status of American troops and imagines possible scenarios. Will they be pulled out of the area? What will their duties be? How could they control the situation?

“I mean, they can’t choose sides,” she said.

In her Cal Poly San Luis Obispo English class, Michelle Aguilar, Nick’s sister, was assigned a paper on something that changed her life. She wrote seven paragraphs on the influence of her brother going to Iraq. She received an “A” on the paper. The title of her paper was “Sandbox.”

“The day my brother told me he was being deployed, I started paying much more attention,” she wrote. “Now I realize those numbers of American soldiers dead are much more then just numbers. Each one represents a person, either someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. Knowing that there are so many people fighting and dying for me to be free, I try not to take anything for granted. I am so grateful to have a roof over my head, food on my plate, a loving family, and a great chance for an education. Nick has taught me that we all can do something to help.”

From ordering guns to finishing homework

Three years ago Blauvelt was in a tent in the middle of a sandstorm waiting for a ride back to base. His job duty as a Marine was ordering supplies for comrades. Guns, ammunition, water, toilet paper and toothbrushes were all on the list.

“They wanted to go light. They wanted what they needed,” he said.

In the first waves on invasion he was stationed at the back lines in Kuwait. In his second Middle East tour during a four-year contract with the military branch he was stationed at a base in Ramadi, Iraq. It was inside the volatile Sunni Triangle. Blauvelt, 23, remembered ducking for cover when his ears caught the sounds of mortars and other air attacks.

“Every week was different,” he said. “You were hoping you weren’t in the wrong spot in the wrong time.”

While on the base he would surf the Internet looking for colleges to attend after his contract expired. The Palm Springs native wanted a school anchored in an area known for active outdoor lifestyles. He found Lake Tahoe Community College and is in his first year meeting undergraduate requirements so he could transfer to a school for a mechanical engineering degree.

Once a supporter of the war, Blauvelt said his leanings have turned more neutral. He envisions the war to continue for a few more years.

He said the war has prompted him to enjoy the little things in life, such as solitude and tranquility, but he admits he misses the camaraderie on fellow soldiers.

“You don’t have to drive down the road here and look for bombs on the side,” he said. “That’s a benefit too.”

Iraq as a teaching point

Political science instructor Leonard Weinberg at the University of Nevada spotted a parallel between Iraq’s possible infliction upon politics with past examples.

Weinberg pointed to four major American conflicts after World War II and how they impacted American presidents. Harry Truman did not seek re-election during the Korean War, nor did Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam. Richard Nixon did but he later was impeached, and George Bush Sr. failed to win re-election after the first conflict with Iraq.

Weinberg, who teaches a course on political violence and terrorism, thinks the same might be in store for the Republican party which could lose power during this year’s midterm elections.

“That distinction might be in the process of eroding,” he said of the Republican party’s stature.

Lake Tahoe Community College professor Scott Lukas cited a number of influences on culture, economics and politics from the Iraq war.

Lukas touched on subjects ranging from America’s expansion to America’s future relationship with China. He described the National Security Document of the United States as a good read.

Lukas has taught a course shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks focusing on the event and its potential aftermath. He also taught a cultures of violence course which had themes from the Iraq war.

Former Marine foresees the war continuing another “four or five years.” American troops can’t be pulled out of the area because of the likely chaos that would ensue but, at the same time, soldiers are being killed on an almost daily basis.

“You can’t just go in and destroy a country and hope it rebuilds itself,” he said.

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