The road to Iraq: Tahoe native discusses what led him to join the military |

The road to Iraq: Tahoe native discusses what led him to join the military

Adam Jensen

Following his return home from his first seven-month tour of duty in Iraq on Saturday, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Steiner reflected on the events set in motion six years ago that led to his enlistment in the military.

Attending South Shore schools until his graduation from South Tahoe High School in 2005, the 20-year-old felt compelled to join the Marines after watching the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I felt that I needed to,” was the simple response in an e-mail to a question about how the events of Sept. 11 influenced him to join the military.

Although expressing a combination of sadness and sympathy for the victims’ friends and family, Steiner admitted the complete ramifications of the Sept. 11 attacks were unknown to him in 2001.

Wearing a black South Tahoe High School Seniors sweatshirt, smoking cigarettes that weren’t his brand of choice, Steiner relayed some of the experiences leading up to his enlistment in the Marines, during an interview at El Dorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe on Monday.

“At 14, you don’t really see the devastation of the tragedy,” Steiner said. “I didn’t really understand what was going on.”

Just as it was for many, the crashing of the second plane brought the realization that the seemingly impossible turn of events was a coordinated terrorist attack.

A high school freshman when the World Trade Center was destroyed, the urge to serve in the military followed Steiner through high school, continuing past the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Not at liberty to discuss the politics surrounding the war, Steiner answered a simple “yes” when asked in an e-mail if his original intentions for joining the Marines have been fulfilled by his time in Iraq.

“I wanted to be the guy who was out there doing the patrols, out there talking to people,” Steiner said on Monday.

Although the “hot, long and tiresome” conditions in Iraq are to be expected in a Middle Eastern war zone, Steiner said some of the realities of war take certain events to set in.

“Not until that first shot flies over your head” did the gravity of the situation really become clear, according to Steiner.

The South Tahoe High graduate participated in regular foot patrols to root out insurgents in Al Anbar province.

Once among the most violent parts of Iraq, reports of increased security in the region of western Iraq have been used by the White House to support claims of the success of a January troop surge, which increased the number of U.S. troops in the country from approximately 140,000 to 168,000.

Steiner talked to the Tribune on the same day in which Gen. David Petraeus delivered a progress report on Iraq. In the assessment, Petraeus cautiously relayed improving conditions in Iraq may allow at least 30,000 U.S. troops to be brought home by next summer.

While proud of his choice to join the Marines, Steiner isn’t enthused with the prospect of going back for a second tour in Iraq, something that may be inevitable.

“We know we’re going to be going back, we just don’t know when,” Steiner said Monday.

When asked about his plans for his time off in Tahoe, Steiner said, “nothin’,” with a wry grin.

“I’m just glad to be home,” he said, before taking a walk to take in a familiar view of Lake Tahoe, likely a little easier to appreciate these days.

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