On October 3, 2009, more than 300 Taliban fighters overran Combat Outpost Keating, the outpost held by my reconnaissance troop of seventy-six cavalry scouts. During the eighteen-hour battle, the Taliban killed eight soldiers, wounded nineteen more, and burned our base to the ground. Describing my unit’s mission, President Obama asserted we had to “defend the indefensible.” This was the longest day of my life, but it only prefaced a struggle that has lasted for years.
Caitlin Margaret Kelly M.F.A. ’14 studies a photo of a back-to-the-lander teaching a younger woman how to aim a rifle, then slides it along the floor toward the center of a wall. Placed there, though, the gun appears to threaten the boy in the photo next to it, standing in his patch of poison ivy. She moves it again, but here it targets a decaying church, its steeple slumping into its sanctuary.
AS COURTNEY LIU ’13 walks away from the Ark on a cool and cloudy fall day, she considers the class in which she has just participated. She had been asked to sink into the floor of the Ark, the smooth gray floor on which over the years thousands of the best dancers in the world had moved. To sink even through that floor, into the earth beneath.
It has been a great spring and summer in beautiful and historic Beaufort, North Carolina, my hometown. Hundreds of visitors daily have come to explore the glorious coastal ecosystem, just as they have every summer. Yet the normality is just surface. Beaufort is still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which struck the area just under a year ago.
When I approached the Army ROTC offices in the basement of the West Duke Building in 2002, my sophomore year, I had one purpose in mind—finding a way to stay in college. 9-11 was a fresh memory, but the prospect of war seemed distant and unlikely. I wanted to secure my future, and a degree from Duke was a major part of my plan. I needed a scholarship, and the Army seemed like my best bet.
Andrew Fontanella could be forgiven for wanting to be somewhere else. At six foot three, with a tousle of curly dark-brown hair that adds another inch or two, he looms above everyone else in this cramped second-floor classroom in the generically named Medical Sciences Research Building on Research Drive. It’s 11:30 on a windy Wednesday morning in March, and Fontanella keeps an eye on the clock.
In the summer of 2010, Nyuol Tong ’14 returned to his home village of Ayeit in what is now South Sudan for the first time since he was five years old. He saw the remnants of war. Destroyed houses. Scorched land. Scarred people. Scarce jobs. A young population. And no schools. “Not even a single school,” Tong says. “That was a horrifying fact.”