Correction to This Article
A July 22 Magazine article incorrectly said that Chris Day was the only Yale University ROTC graduate this year. Jerry Morones, who transferred to Yale, also graduated from the ROTC program this year.
Cover Story

Their War

Two Army recruiters manning an information stand last year during rush hour in the Times Square subway station in New York.
Two Army recruiters manning an information stand last year during rush hour in the Times Square subway station in New York. (David Brabyn/Corbis - )
By Kristin Henderson
Sunday, July 22, 2007

MILES OF CHAIN-LINK FENCE RUN through the coastal Carolina pine forest. Armed Marines guard the gates. Pass through those gates, and, at first, you might not realize you've left the civilian world behind. Inside this cluster of military installations are tidy neighborhoods, shopping centers and a golf course. It looks like Suburbia, U.S.A. But then, as families push shopping carts through a parking lot full of SUVs, off in the distance there's the crackle of small-arms fire. Artillery booms, a dull thud.

Deep in the fenced-off woods, at the edge of a firing range atop a man-made rise of earth, a sergeant stands over a Marine. The cords in his neck strain as he roars: "You don't have time to watch your rounds go downrange! You got Iraqis shooting at you! Reload!"

Camp Geiger, N.C., next door to Camp Lejeune, is home to the Marine Corps' East Coast School of Infantry. A dozen Marines at a time climb to the top of the rise and take positions in bunkers and behind sandbags. Strapped into body armor and helmets, they're learning to fire the M-203, a grenade launcher that looks like a short tube slung below the barrel of the standard-issue rifle, the M-16. Each time a grenade leaves a tube, it sounds like a giant cork popping.

Down the line, Pfc. Theo Tuyishimire finishes taking his turn. He jumps up. "Good shooting," the sergeant barks.

Tuyishimire says that when he tells his mother what he's doing here, firing weapons, she asks him: "Why do you have to shoot guns? Do you not remember what happened to us?"

Back in their native Rwanda, she was an educator with two degrees. But in 1994, when Tuyishimire was 9, the bloody genocide broke out, Hutus killing Tutsis and any Hutus who got in the way, and Tuyishimire's Hutu family was getting in the way. They fled to America.

He sits back down among the rows of Marines waiting below the rise. His fingers brush at the sand that sugars his skin after a brief night's sleep on the ground. After training all day yesterday, he and the other Marines out here hoisted heavy packs and humped them 11 miles through the pine forest to the firing ranges before finally crawling into their sleeping bags. Three hours later, their sergeants shouted them awake for another day.

"Ever since I was young," Tuyishimire says, "with war breaking out in Rwanda, I've wanted to prevent that from happening elsewhere. I want to do something meaningful."

When asked if he considered something like the Peace Corps, he shakes his head no. "I'm a person of action, not words."

He's 21. He was in college, aiming for a degree in physical education, but he couldn't concentrate on school. He kept thinking about the Marines. "I needed to get it out of the way," he explains. "It's not that college was wrong for me. Just not right now." His parents tried to talk him out of enlisting. His friends said he was stupid for joining during a war.

"Why would you join in peacetime?" he counters. "In wartime, you get to go do something." His round face is calm, his voice matter of fact. "I know war is nasty. I've seen dead bodies, death and destruction back in my home country. Can't say I'm ready for war, but I want that sense of helpfulness. Back then, I was too little to do anything about it."

The night the killing started in Tuyishimire's Kigali neighborhood, the Tutsi children from next door jumped the fence to get to the safety of his family's house -- safe because it was the Hutu pastor's house. His father is a Free Methodist minister. Half an hour later, the house the children had fled burned down, and their parents were dead. Tuyishimire's family joined the flood of people fleeing to the countryside. They passed a Tutsi family Tuyishimire's mother knew.


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