Veteran Patrick Maxwell received a flurry of media attention during the past few months. The New York Times, NPR, and the Texas Standard all vied for interviews, and the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” Reddit, was awash in speculation about Maxwell’s recent activities.
Although Maxwell’s term of enlistment in the United State Marine Corps ended in 2011, he recently put a real estate career in Austin, Texas on hold to return to the Middle East as a volunteer troop.
Maxwell paid a visit to Incline Village this April to spend the weekend with his friend and fellow veteran, Sierra Nevada College Sophomore Anthony Martin. Martin said that they first met a few years ago.
“I went down to visit some buddies in Austin, and he lives in Austin,” said Martin. “So we all decided to meet up and get some beers. It’s kind of funny. Marine Corps infantry is so small that you can know one person and kind of know everybody.”
But before Maxwell, a Texas native, came to visit the Tahoe Basin, he decided to embark on a much longer voyage, to the northern region of Iraq also known as Kurdistan. Prior to this trip, Maxwell had deployed on several occasions to Iraq during his eight-year term of service. His experience informed his decision to make a return trip in early December of 2014.
“I just wanted to get away for a while, away from my job. I was kind of burnt out,” said Maxwell. “I saw all of the atrocities happening in Kobani, and I thought it would be kind of cool to get over there and join them before it became another Alamo.”
Maxwell took the money for travel and equipment expenses out of his savings account. He bought life insurance that would cover him in the event of a tragedy. This brought his total trip cost up to approximately $7,000.
“Once you disclose that you’re doing something like that all that you find is pretty pricey,” said Maxwell of his search for life insurance.
Although he had originally planned on going to the city of Kobani, a battlefront in Syria, Maxwell got in touch with a Kurdish army lieutenant through Facebook, and packed his bags shortly thereafter.
“I ended up not going to Syria, but to northern Iraq instead,” said Maxwell.
Prior to traveling, Maxwell met a Canadian veteran named Dillon Hillier, who was also in touch with the Kurdish lieutenant and en-route to the region.
“Dillon got there about two weeks before me,” said Maxwell. “I wasn’t really worried about it being a trap, but once he got there and didn’t have his head cut off, I knew it wasn’t.”
Kurdistan is a large region spanning several Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Kurdish military in Iraq, also known as the Peshmerga, have been highly effective and instrumental in the conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
When Maxwell arrived at the airport in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, Hillier and the Peshmerga lieutenant he had contacted through Facebook were there to meet him.
“On the day I got there, we attended a change over ceremony where one shift left and another shift came on,” said Maxwell. “About 200 meters away, right across the river, there was a flag and a block house with three or four ISIL militants in it, and 600 to 700 meters back was their main base. They had a little watchtower right there.”
The date was December 17, and it was Kurdistan’s flag day.
“They were like ‘Hey we’re going to take that flag down with machine gun fire because it’s our flag day,’” said Maxwell.
U.S. citizens have a history of traveling to fight in foreign wars. During the Spanish Civil War, a coalition of nearly 3,000 American men and women formed the Abraham Lincoln Battalion to help fight fascism alongside the soldiers of the Spanish Republic. During World War I, American pilots volunteered to serve with the French Air Service in a detachment called the Lafayette Escadrille.
When Maxwell and Dillon arrived in Kurdistan, they were given a shipping container to sleep in. The Peshmerga gave them weapons, ammunition and food, but the pair were both acting in a voluntary capacity with no compensation. They fought alongside the Kurdish army for a period of seven weeks, but the atmosphere began to change.
“A few westerners started trickling in here and there, but we didn’t really deal with them a lot. We had our own routine down,” said Maxwell. “They were civilians that didn’t have any military experience. Me and Dillon were trained combat veterans.”
Maxwell also said his American status made it difficult to be viewed as an equal by the native army.
“These guys were more worried about our safety than they were about treating us like one their guys and putting us on the front lines,” said Maxwell. “They were too distracted by us.”
In late January, Maxwell returned to New York, but not before receiving a warning from a few U.S. Special forces troops he had encountered in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
“They took us aside and told us that what we were doing was ballsy, but that the consulate advised us to stop and go home, and lawyer up,” said Maxwell. “That’s when I talked to Thomas Brennan.”
Brennan, a Marine Corps veteran and graduate student at the Columbia Journalism School in New York, advised Maxwell to come and stay with him.
“He told me, ‘If you get your story out there first before they have a chance to write their narrative, they can’t cast you as some kind of home grown terrorist,’” said Maxwell.
Upon arrival in New York, Maxwell expected to be detained. He was surprised to walk out of the airport unimpeded. From there, he went to stay in Brennan’s apartment.
Before long, Brennan took the story to the New York Times, and a tidal wave of media attention befell Maxwell.
“NPR asked me if I was a Tea Party redneck that was going to fight them [ISIL] over there so I didn’t have to fight them over here,” said Maxwell.
But Maxwell didn’t fit neatly into his prescribed demographic. With nearly a decade of military experience under his belt, including time served in Iraq early on in the conflict, Maxwell had formed his own opinion about U.S. involvement in the region.
“They want more U.S. military involvement,” said Maxwell. “As someone who’s seen the effects of all thirteen years of war, we’re just killing a bunch of 18 to 20-year-old men for no reason. There’s no point to this. Let’s stop doing that.”
Lounging on a black leather sofa in Incline Village and nursing a half-empty Icky IPA, Maxwell reflected on his motivation for returning to the war-torn region.
“A lot of people asked me if it was about friends I lost in the war,” said Maxwell. “It wasn’t. It had nothing to do with 9/11 or my friends in the war. It was a personal motivation. It’s the one time I’ll have a chance to do something like this. I always wanted to work with refugees in war zones. This is the one time I’ll ever be able to take those guys on.”
He smiled and took another sip of beer, adding, “I’ve got the coolest story in the bar.”
A number of the students on the Sierra Nevada College campus go on incredible adventures either through the Outdoor Adventure Leadership (ODAL) program, through events run by the Sierra Nevada College staff or adventures they create on their own. While the ODAL program is a vastly popular program on campus, some students and the community have no idea just the kinds of adventures these students take on.
On April 15, five ODAL students presented their adventure stories in the first ever Outdoor Leadership symposium held at SNC. ODAL Program Director Rosie Hackett welcomed the audience with a short opening introduction.
“We want to know what you (the students) have been doing. We do some pretty cool trips in ODAL, but you all do even radder adventures on your own,” said Hackett. “This is our opportunity to have our students showcase what they have done.”
Junior Stephen Van Den Hoogen, Senior Casey Gordon and Senior April Agranoff, Senior Carl Wernhoff and Senior Erica Nelson were the featured presenters. Their adventures included skiing in Alaska, backpacking in Argentina, the journey of working as a raft guide, internships in rock climbing and fly-fishing and lessons from getting lost in Alaska.
Senior and ODAL student Scout Sorcic was approached by Hackett and ODAL instructor Daryl Teittinen about creating a symposium while she was preparing her own presentation for a conference over winter break.
The ODAL students have never been given a platform in the past to talk about their adventures. These presentations were both a way to show-off the activities students have been doing and to bring the department closer together.
“Many people see ODAL 101 and 201 and don’t really know where to go from there on their own,” said Sorcic. “This shows what students can do and also brings the entire ODAL tribe together to put names to faces for newer students.”
With the success of this event, plans for the next symposium are currently aiming for either fall or spring.
The Sierra Nevada College ski and snowboard teams dominated during the week and were able to bring back home a lot of hardware. The teams won a total of eight team National Championship titles, 24 individual podiums and four overall team National Championship titles.
At Alibi Ale Works, the Sierra Nevada College Brewing Club has taken on a new life.
“Last year, SNC offered a brewing class for the first time. That is when a lot of students, including myself, first became interested in the science behind brewing,” said Senior Tim Curran, Vice-President of the Brewing Club.
Curran was not alone with his newfound passion for brewing. While a Brewing Club had existed at SNC in years past, it had to be reorganized to accommodate a growing interest in the craft.
“The Brewing Club was around before, but nobody had done much with it. I figured if anyone changed this, it would be me,” said Junior Courtney Potts, President of the Brewing Club.
Five athletes from the Sierra Nevada College Snowboard team traveled to two countries and nine states in just 24 days, in order to compete in North American Cup and FIS (International Ski Federation) events. The trip brought many great results and experiences as well as an unfortunate injury for one of the athletes.
Sierra Nevada College Men’s Lacrosse team started practice last September to prepare for their upcoming spring season. The team played five exhibition games and despite suffering their first loss in a year, were able to learn though their adversity. When asked about “fall ball”, Men’s Lacrosse Coach Bruce Meierdiercks said, “I think our fall season was a continuation of where we left off last year. In the fall we added some new people and they seemed to assimilate pretty well with the core group and picked up their intensity level to match the returning players. In a losing effort, we also learned how to come back from five goals down which we never had to do before. It was a good lesson to know we can do it. Just one goal at a time.”
Sophomore midfielder Dylon Fangmeier agreed with the coach, saying, “I think near the end of fall our teamwork on offense really got a lot better than it has been in the past. That will definitely carry on and get better in the spring.”
Both the players and coach are now looking forward to starting their second season together. The team starts practice on Tuesday Feb 3. At this time last year, snow left the team with no field to practice on and in the month of February they resorted to playing on the beach of Lake Tahoe. “I am excited to start practice because there is no snow. I am probably one of the only people up here that do not want snow but it will get us way ahead of where we were last year,” Meierdiercks said. Despite being able to practice now, SNC is still unable to schedule home games during the first half of the season because of the possibility of being snowed out. The first five games of the season will be spent traveling and the next five will all be held at North Tahoe Regional Park in Tahoe Vista where the team practices.
“It will definitely be harder to overcome five straight road games. If we had a few home games and traveled in between it would be easier but we are up to the challenge and I think we will take care of it,” Fangmeier said. Though traveling will be challenging, Meierdiercks believes it will be a necessary learning experience for the whole team. “Intensity level is going to sustain us through the whole season. We have a few more games this year including two big road trips and a couple of games back to back and we are going to have to learn how to play when we are tired because that is how you have to do it if you make the playoffs having four games in five days against very good competition. So this again will be a learning process we have to go through. We will learn a lot about ourselves maturity wise, if we can stay focused with a lot of distractions going on.”
An article “Taking a Look: WCLL” from the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association website previews the teams conference for the upcoming season. It says, “The only knock on this team from last year is that it was the program’s first and provisional year in the MCLA and the team was therefore ineligible for postseason play. Otherwise, 2014 was a sparkling example of what the Eagles can and will do when matched up against fellow WCLL teams.. When pitted up against Nevada, the to-be WCLL champs? The Eagles beat the conference’s title team by twenty one goals.”
This team will not be able to surprise teams like they may have last year but expectations remain high. “I am hoping that we have enough talent to get ranked nationally in the top ten,” Meierdiercks said, “We are going to have a tough schedule with our non-conference games. Southern Oregon was ranked in the top 25 nationally, we also have Concordia and Cal State Fullerton who were ranked 15 and 12 in the country respectively. If we can win our non conference games and take care of our own conference then we should get a bid to the national tournament in Orange County.” Performing well against quality competition will be necessary to put the team where they want to be; competing for a national championship. Fangmeier said, “Next season we expect a championship. That is what we are all shooting for. If we are all trying to get it, I believe we can get it done.”
|Mens Lacrosse Schedule|
|Sat Mar 7, 3:30 PM||@ Humboldt State|
|Sun Mar 8, 1 PM||@ Southern Oregon|
|Sat Mar 14, 2 PM||@ San Jose State|
|Wed Mar 18, 7 PM||@ Concordia|
|Sat Mar 21, 1 PM||@ Cal State Fullerton|
|Sat Mar 28, 1 PM||San Francisco|
|Sat April 4, 1 PM||UC Santa Cruz|
|Sat April 11, 3 PM||Saint Mary’s|
|Sat April 18, 2 PM||Pacific|
|Sat April 25, 2 PM||Nevada|
It is the first day of class and over thirty students file into Humanities Professor Robert King’s classroom. Quickly, students realize that this course on Revolutionary Eco-History isn’t taught in the same spirit as their core requirement Civilization course. King felt that more could be done to introduce students at Sierra Nevada College to alternative economic theories and modes of thinking.
“After finishing my philosophy degree I turned my interest toward economic and ecological problems because these had become the big problems in our world. Not only were they framed this way, they really were the big problems,” said King.
King’s elective course is one of several offered this semester across all disciplines and academic departments at SNC. Dan O’Bryan, associate provost and department chair of Humanities and Social Sciences, believes that students should have exposure to at least one elective course every school year.
“Although we do not have a history major, we do try to offer some history courses because we feel it’s very important,” O’Bryan said.
It is not always easy to introduce an elective course into the curriculum.
“It’s put in the schedule, and we see what the response is. If it goes below eight than that’s a bit of a problem. However, instructors always have the option to turn it into an independent study,” O’Bryan explained.
Samantha Bankston, associate professor of Humanities, is teaching two new elective courses this semester: Film Adaptation of the Novel and French 201. She has had difficulty attaining the eight student requirement in the past.
On Jan. 4, 16 students set out on a two-week long trip to visit Japan. While this trip has been regularly offered during May, this was the first time that Sierra Nevada College students got a chance to go during the winter months. Chair of Fine Arts Sheri Leigh O’Connor has been taking art students toJapan for several years to explore and experience Eastern arts and culture. After their recent trip in May 2014, a student approached O’Connor with the idea of going again in the winter for skiing and snowboarding.