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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

KU graduate assists postwar relations

August 16, 2003

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Last year, Robert Chamberlain, then a senior at Kansas University, won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

He could be in England now, studying at Oxford University. Instead, he's in Iraq with the U.S. military.

"He's up north in Mosul -- we're happy about that," said Chamberlain's father, the Rev. Mike Chamberlain, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Topeka. Most of the postwar skirmishes have been in or around Baghdad in central Iraq.

During his senior year at KU, Robert Chamberlain was Army ROTC battalion commander. He's now a field artillery officer with the 101st Airborne Division.

Because the artillery phase of the war is -- or appears to be -- over, he's been put on a civil-military operations team that's taking a hands-on approach to working with local leaders to find ways to get Iraq back on its feet.

Last month, in an e-mail exchange with the Journal-World, Chamberlain, 23, wrote that, generally, he's encountered three groups of Iraqis:

l Those who are "sincerely patriotic and are dedicated to rebuilding their country and its institutions."

l Opportunists "trying to take advantage of the temporary power vacuum that existed just after the end of the war" and who "are still stealing everything they find unsupervised."

l The vast majority, those "who are entirely focused on the basic necessities and in not making waves."

Kristin Chamberlain, Lawrence, displays a photograph of her
husband, Robert Chamberlain, who is overseas in Iraq for the United
States Army. Chamberlaiin is a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of KU.
His study at Oxford in England was interrupted due to his service
in the Middle East.

Kristin Chamberlain, Lawrence, displays a photograph of her husband, Robert Chamberlain, who is overseas in Iraq for the United States Army. Chamberlaiin is a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of KU. His study at Oxford in England was interrupted due to his service in the Middle East.

It's rare, he wrote, for Iraqis to take initiative to solve their own problems because that would mean getting organized. But for 30 years, Saddam Hussein frowned on those who organized. They were seen as malcontents prone to sowing seeds of dissent and deserving death.

So in Iraq, Chamberlain wrote, "there is a widespread expectation that the authorities should do everything and, as a result, individual initiative is a rare phenomena."

Piles of garbage

He explained that when the war ended, Kurds -- the largest ethnic minority in the northern city -- drove off with most of Mosul's trash trucks. Neighborhoods soon were plagued with piles of rotting garbage.

Those in the neighborhood he's working with, he wrote, all wanted to know when the U.S.-led coalition was going to clean it up.

"But no one in this highly educated, fairly affluent professional neighborhood thought to organize people, rent some trucks and clean the mess up themselves," he wrote.

The reluctance to organize, he wrote, is as understandable as it is frustrating.

"Six months ago," he wrote, being part of such a movement would have been "a lethal proposition for the organizer. It is frustrating, though, and the cultural clash between an organization built on initiative and hierarchy and a society ruled by a regime that killed leaders and activists can be difficult to manage, both within myself and within my unit."

In a Monday e-mail, Chamberlain said the sites now were being cleaned up, a joint effort by U.S. military, Iraqis and United Nations aid workers.

Chamberlain said his company oversees about 250,000 Iraqis; his battalion oversees nearly a million. Mosul is Iraq's third-largest city.

Oxford postponed

Mike Chamberlain said his son plans to attend Oxford University next year. There, he hopes to study refugee movements, or how conflicts affect population.

"He's excited about being able to get out and about in Iraq and to talk to real people," Mike Chamberlain said. "The times we've heard from him, he's said he's getting lots of good information. I know that when he left, he took a lot of blank paper with him. He intends to take a lot of notes."

Always an avid reader, Robert Chamberlain was a National Merit Scholar, and in 2001 was named a Truman Scholar. He graduated from KU with distinction and university honors as well as departmental honors in political science.

He has no plans to leave the Army.

"I've wanted to be a soldier for a long time," he wrote.

"Across the world, there are evil men who would do harm to the innocent and who would threaten the peace and prosperity of the United States. It is the task of the soldier to put himself -- or herself -- between the evil and the innocent," he wrote. "A soldier doesn't stand helpless before horrific events -- the soldier imposes his will on those events, channels the current of history, topples enemy regimes, calms troubled societies, and through his capacity for instant, overwhelming violence prevents violent actions from occurring in the first place."

The American soldier, he wrote, "is the ultimate warrior, humanitarian, and ambassador."

"He's always wanted to spend time in the military," Mike Chamberlain said of his son. "I guess that's not surprising. I did 22 years as an Army engineer and a helicopter pilot. His mother, Judy, was in the Army; both his grandfathers are retired Army."

Judy Chamberlain is principal at Perry Elementary School.

Challenging ideas

But it is surprising that out of all the courses of study at KU, Chamberlain chose to major in political science, a choice that, more than most, was sure to challenge his pro-military leanings.

Those who know Chamberlain said that wasn't the case.

"Robert is the kind of person who's not afraid of ideas -- he can handle new and challenging ideas," said Sue Lorenz, interim associate director and scholarship coordinator for KU's Honors Program.

"He's very informed, extremely bright and very articulate," she said. "He comes up with his own opinion on things."

Eventually, Chamberlain, who grew up in Yates Center before moving to Topeka when he was a junior in high school, hopes to teach international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"Most important, though, I want a happy family and a healthy marriage," he wrote. "I figure if I have those things the rest will fall into place."

Chamberlain's wife, Kristen, lives in Lawrence. She's a senior, majoring in accounting at KU.

"I graduate in December and I'm planning to move to Fort Campbell (Kentucky) -- hopefully Robert will be back by then and we can get back to sharing the same quarters. By then, we will have been living in different parts of the country -- or the world -- for 15 months."

The couple were married just four months before Robert was called up.

"He's really a great guy," she said. "Both of us are very excited about being able to spend two uninterrupted years together in England."

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