Adam L’Episcopo has been going back and forth between being a student and a soldier. He says when the topic of Iraq comes up in his university classroom, he prefers to stay silent because he doesn’t want to drown the other students in his words and experiences.
Every war veteran has a unique story, and not all of them end in a crippling combat injury, suicidal depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. But L’Episcopo’s story, at least the part we’ve learned about, has had many twists and turns.
After graduating from high school in the midwestern state of Colorado, he says, he wanted to find out more about what was really happening in Iraq. So he enlisted in the Army.
After spending several months in Mosul, in northern Iraq, he was sent to Baghdad in December 2006 where violence was escalating.
While in the service, he says, he decided to further his education, to better understand the tumultuous world around him.
During downtime on military missions, he filled out applications to universities back in the United States, even writing one application letter from inside an armored vehicle. To his surprise, he was accepted to his top choice: the School of International Service at American University.
As a student, he has struggled with expenses. Veteran benefits were much lower than he expected. He also missed the solidarity he felt with other soldiers.
It has been anything but a smooth ride. At one point, the Army said he would have to go back to Iraq. His mother was devastated by the prospect. So he quickly completed another information packet, including letters from lawmakers, and again, to his surprise, the orders were revoked, allowing him to finish his degree.
He says the American news media have told his story several times. But they have often distorted his views and taken them out of context, depicting him as a veteran who was turning his back on the Army.
His story is not the kind of simple narrative you can fit into a short soundbite. L’Episcopo finds the U.S. education system too expensive and elitist. He says without his army experience, he would have never been admitted to the excellent program he has enjoyed.
He recently decided to join a reserve unit of the U.S. Army, to give himself more options for his future, including better financial ones.
Training may delay his graduation, but L’Episcopo says that’s his predicament: to be living two realities as both a student and a soldier.