MMI grads serving in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 1, 2005

There’s little question the people of the Black Belt fully support the brave men and women fighting the War on Terror in Iraq. It’s worth remembering, however, that one Black Belt institution–Marion Military Institute–has a long tradition of providing the military with the kind of personnel worth supporting.

“At the very least, 50 to 100 MMI graduates have served or are serving in Iraq,” said MMI’s Director of Alumni Affairs, Carrie Williams. “It’s probably a lot more than that. We have so many active it’s hard to keep up.”

There are enough of them, as a photograph of six MMI graduates taken at Baghdad’s Camp Falcon shows, that Iraq is now home to its own MMI mini-reunions. The photo recently graced the cover, Williams said, of the MMI alumni magazine.

MMI President Colonel James H. Benson said that the wealth of MMI graduates doing their part to serve their country is emblematic of the success MMI has had in fostering leadership and character in its cadets.

“We consider it a tribute to the quality of our military leadership instruction,” Benson said, “that we have MMI graduates leading forces into combat in a foreign theater.”

Several of the anecdotes Williams was able to relate regarding the success of MMI graduates in Iraq further enhance the “tribute” alluded to by Benson. Tristan Farina-Vasquez, a native of Hanau, Germany and one of the six graduates in the Baghdad photograph, served as platoon leader in the 127th MP and was awarded a Bronze Star medal of valor for her service with the 89th MP brigade at Forward Operations Base (FOB) Falcon.

Another MMI graduate receiving the Bronze Star is George French, class of 2001, who was honored for his actions in combat in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. French also took part in the operation that brought President Bush to Iraq for Thanksgiving.

MMI grad Chris Jenkins may have gone to Iraq as a civilian contractor rather than as an officer in the military, but his story’s hardly any less interesting: after working with a medical clinic in the Iraqi city of Al-Tagaddum, he was permitted to remove the American flag that flew from the clinic’s roof and sent it back to his alma mater as a thank-you. According to Williams, the flag now hangs in MMI’s office of Institutional Advancement.

And as one would expect, MMI has been a stepping stone for many young Black Belt men and women who have gone on to successful careers in the military. One of them is Alex Barton, a Uniontown native and son of Burnis and Sherry Barton, who rose to the rank of Lance-Corporal in the Marines before returning to the States from Iraq.

Williams said those were just a small sampling of the dozens of success stories involving MMI graduates doing their part to help keep America safe.