Professor’s book recalls experience in Iraq

Bill Mitchell with some friends in Iraq. Photo courtesy of Bill Mitchell

By Brooke Hill | Staff Writer

Between 2003 and 2007, teams of Baylor professors and other volunteers made five trips to Iraq to help fellow educators rebuild following the rule of Saddam Hussein. Dr. Bill Mitchell, an Emeritus Professor of History and retired U.S. Air Force officer led teams that endured wartime conditions to help universities in Iraq start over, sharing expertise and resources with universities half a world away.

The Baylor teams’ efforts are chronicled in Mitchell’s new book, Baylor in Northern Iraq During Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mitchell, who led Baylor’s Center for International Education from 2000-07 after retiring as an Air Force Colonel, describes how he and 22 colleagues served others in a unique way, giving Baylor a presence in Iraq unlike any other.

The book opens with an explanation of how the journeys began. On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A few weeks later, class of 1954 Baylor alum Charles Richard Hurst and Dr. Mitchell met to discuss global servant leadership opportunities for Baylor University. This meeting progressed to an intensive multi-year effort by the Baylor administration, faculty colleagues, staff, students, alumni, and community friends for the recovery of higher education in Iraq, according to the book.

The foreword of the book includes “At Baylor, ‘love thy neighbor’ are not just words… they are a way of life. At Baylor, we measure success by the positive difference we make in the world around us,” which comes from the Pro Futuris strategic vision for Baylor University 2014-2018.

“Baylor’s heart is always on display,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes there are bumps in the road. Regardless, we must do what we can to help our neighbors in need. As humans, we succeed far more than we fail. Those who participated in the journeys to Iraq faced significant uncertainty, a mixture of joy with apprehension. Their courage, enthusiasm, and volunteering was always on display. I was determined to tell our story regardless of how long it took.”

Their experiences centered around Duhok University and the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq. There, they worked alongside both Kurdish Muslims and Christians to serve and rebuild. They stress they visited not as “American heroes,” but rather as collaborators who talked to educators, students and civilians in the area to find out what needs could be met, according to Baylor Proud.

“So many experiences stand out,” Mitchell said. “Such as the Kurds’ overwhelming appreciation and praise for a Christian University to send a large group of American men and women with talent and resources to make a strong impact on their higher education; tears shed by us and our hosts; seeing red and black warning signs along the roads reminded us of the danger facing the villagers and others; the capture of Saddam Hussein as we were heading to Iraq; the killing of Saddam’s sons in Mosul a few days before our arrival there; a bonding of professors across disciplines; and last, but not in my mind, are the suffering children and families who just want to have a safe place to live and work.”

Mitchell explained that he wrote the book because he wanted future generations to hear about their experiences for years to come.

“Every university should teach about its history,” Mitchell said. “This book is a small part of Baylor’s extensive and wonderful history. It is a now a published part of the Baylor legacy. Other generations years from now deserve to know how we were called for the unarmed forces—with heart—in an armed forces environment.”

Other professors who made the journey to Iraq include Cindy Fry, senior lecturer of computer science; Mark Long, associate professor of BIC and director of Middle East Studies; Brad Owens, senior lecturer in the department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media; Lyn Prater, clinical professor at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing.

“Participating in the journeys surrounding Education Goes to War had a major impact on me as a faculty member,” Prater said. “Standing in solidarity with our northern Iraqi colleagues both at the University and at the hospital provided both insight and inspiration for me as I learned from them what it means to serve under extremely harsh conditions. I learned from Dr. Mitchell how to negotiate the sensitive cultural challenges when leading a group internationally and have since led both students and faculty on over 35 trips abroad. I am forever grateful for this experience and for the way that my colleagues on this journey truly demonstrated the mission of Baylor University.”

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