Donald Cole '01

Nothing in the history curriculum at Kenyon prepared Cole for his participation in history. He read about war in Gambier; he lived it in Mosul.

Serving under General David Petraeus in northern Iraq, Cole located and helped disarm mortar shells, land mines, missiles, and other "live" explosives left in the wake of the U.S. invasion.

"I saw plenty of death," Cole said.

Duty often called him to scenes of chaos and bloodshed caused by the detonation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He heard the anguished cries of victims and saw their severed limbs, never knowing if a second device was timed to greet his arrival.

"An IED nearly took my head off," Cole said, when it exploded in the midst of his convoy directly behind him. "It shattered a windshield, but fortunately nobody was hurt."

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, and raised in Detroit, Cole was a history major at Kenyon, where he ran roughshod on the rugby field, partied with his Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers, and talked smack to authority figures.

He joined the Army to grow up. It happened in a hurry.

"Every day, we'd fill seven or eight trucks with munitions, dig a pit, and blow them up," he said. "It was really dangerous; we were dealing with a lot of unstable stuff."

Yet fear was not an option for Cole and the young men under his charge. "I was raised to live life to the fullest because you never know when your time is up," he said, "and that was something I told my troops."

His first mission was to secure one of Saddam Hussein's palaces to serve as a command compound for
the northern sector.

High risk defined his involvement in the "Hearts and Minds" campaign to help Iraqis rebuild their cities and towns. "Sure, we'd pick up their trash, but we might knock out an electric line while we were doing it. The Iraqis appreciated us initially, but they soon came to resent us. Pretty much all of them were armed."

Upon returning stateside, a sergeant in Cole's unit killed himself. Cole credits support from his wife, Kenyon classmate Ann Paulsen, and his other family members and friends with helping him readjust to civilian society. "I'm fortunate that I don't have to deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I don't know why. Maybe I'm wired differently. I accept what happens to me and move on."

His enlistment expired nearly four years ago. Cole is in his third year of law school at Loyola University in Chicago. "My service allowed me to appreciate every day of my life, even though it is not as good as I may want it to be all of the time. But I realize how quickly the few things I do have can be taken away from me."