September 26, 2007: On the Campus
Chronicling the war zone; ‘gap year’ experiences
By Chip McCorkle ’09
Princeton students do some pretty interesting things with their summers. But it’s hard to top Wesley Morgan ’10, who took “interesting” into more dangerous territory this summer — literally. In late July the 19-year-old arrived in the war zone of Iraq.
This was no tour of duty, though Morgan is a member of the Tiger Battalion, Princeton’s ROTC unit, and hopes to be commissioned as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation. For this trip “downrange,” as war zones are known in the military, Morgan went as a journalist, in part to keep a blog for The Daily Princetonian (http://wes-downrange.blogspot.com/).
College newspapers generally don’t have war correspondents, but Morgan — who said he’s been interested in the military since age 6 — is an exceptional case. In October 2006 he interviewed Gen. David Petraeus *87, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, for a Prince article about the four-star general. Morgan found that Petraeus was “an enthusiastic supporter” of the Tiger Battalion, and the two stayed in touch after the article appeared.
After writing two more articles on Petraeus in January, Morgan asked if he had any interesting internship ideas for the summer. Morgan paraphrased the general’s response on his blog: “Sure, he could suggest an internship, but wouldn’t I rather go to Iraq?” An acquaintance of Petraeus, blogger Bill Roggio, helped Morgan secure credentials from The Weekly Standard and funding for flights and equipment from his nonprofit media organization, Public Multimedia Inc., which supports independent journalism in Iraq.
While Roggio said he felt “very comfortable” about sending Morgan out in the field, Morgan did have a few close calls. His Humvee was shot at with a rocket-propelled grenade (the al-Qaida fighters responsible “missed by a mile,” Morgan said), and his helicopter did receive some small-arms fire. But in his typical understated, just-one-of-the-grunts fashion, Morgan downplayed the attacks as “not really a big deal.”
Morgan’s blog entries combined his detailed accounts of going out on patrols, riding in convoys, talking candidly with soldiers about the war, and shadowing Petraeus for a full day. At one point, Morgan reported, the general offered this advice: “Do not try to paint a rosy picture, and when you write about me, you need to convey that I have an extremely cautious outlook about the situation. I am cautious about it, not just optimistic or pessimistic.”
Another group of students have arrived on campus with a full year out in the real world behind them.
They are the 20 or so students who chose to defer their admission last year, the would-be Class of 2010. Taking a so-called gap year between high school and college is a growing phenomenon at Princeton: The number of newly minted Tigers deferring admission for a year has almost doubled since 2003, according to the Admission Office.
But don’t ask this group of Prince-tonians about their “year off” — what some may see as a time to simply “recharge the batteries” was often busier than their time in school.
“Some kids might use the time to sit at home and not do a whole lot, but if you can design a year or find a program to do it for you, it’s a fantastic experience,” said Danny Growald ’11. In the space of one year, Growald traveled to eight countries in addition to blacksmithing at Colonial Williamsburg and working for the Eden Project, an environmental nonprofit group.
Sarah Gershkon ’11 of Chicago, Ill. called her gap year in Moscow “much more psychologically taxing” than high school. The internship she had hoped for fell apart, forcing her to plan her year all over again in a country where she knew no one and spoke only a bit of Russian. But she found a job teaching English that allowed her to study Russian in her free time, and said she feels “far more confident” heading into her freshman year.
Daria Rose Foner ’11 said that after living on her own in Norway to dance in the Norwegian National Ballet, she feels “prepared [for college] in a wholly different way” than had she come straight out of high school. Benjamin Burton ’11 did an exchange year in Ecuador, Mendy Fisch ’11 studied at a yeshiva in Israel, and Tucker Willsie ’11 volunteered in South Africa.
Freshman year at Princeton doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, does it?
Chip McCorkle ’09 is a history major from Durham, N.C.
MORE ON THE CAMPUS: “Summer sweat and study,” by Laura Fitzpatrick ’08, click here.