Mason veterans on deployment, returning to the States

Sophia Delmar, Staff Writer

Matt Basil, U.S. Army Veteran

Instructor Photo (1)Matt Basil is a U.S. Army veteran at Mason pursuing a master’s in communications. Basil received a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in military science from the University of Dayton. He was an ROTC cadet during his undergraduate years and took commission in the Army after graduating.

Basil was in the Army for eight years after completing his bachelor’s.  Starting off as an aviation officer, he was deployed in 2009 to Iraq with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii. His deployment lasted from August 2009 to August 2010. Basil said that he spent almost all of that time stationed in Iraq’s Saladin Province.


Although Basil was a helicopter pilot before going overseas, but he developed hearing loss just before leaving, which prevented him from assuming any flying positions while in Iraq. He spent the first half of his deployment working as an assistant operations and logistic planner, and the second half as a company commander for the air traffic control company with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, which controlled most of the airspace north of Baghdad.

Basil said most soldiers go through a major transition during deployment. “[Being deployed means going from] where the Army is a big part of your life, to where the Army is your life,” Basil said. “[When deployed,] you’re doing your job 24 hours a day.”

Serving overseas is a demanding and often dangerous endeavor for soldiers, but it has its benefits. “It’s actually kind of liberating in some senses [because there are] so many things you don’t have to worry about,” Basil said. “You let go of the normal civilian daily burdens and instead just focus on doing what you need to do.”

Still, Basil added that it was difficult to keep up with relationships back at home when he was overseas, which was especially challenging at a time when he knew very little about the future.

“[When deployed] you go into it not knowing what to expect, and you come out [realizing] that nothing that you do is going to be that hard anymore,” Basil said. “[There are many] physical and mental challenges that you just have to overcome [when overseas].”

Basil said that even his “desk job” in Iraq required him to face these challenges, so he has considerable sympathy for those in active combat. “[I] can’t even imagine the obstacles that people who are in active combat roles had to overcome,” Basil said.

Since returning to the United States, Basil says he has come to believe that a lot of the things people worry about on a daily basis “aren’t that bad.”

Basil was briefed on what was going on in Iraq before leaving. He said that this debriefing and what he experienced in Iraq were not “that far off” from what the media was telling civilians about Iraq at the time. He cannot say for certain that his experience would be an accurate description for what life in Iraq is currently like, however. “[Having not been to Iraq in five years] it’s hard to say whether or not the perceptions are off from reality,” Basil said.

Between 2007 and 2011, the United States withdrew thousands of military personnel from Iraq, including many of the soldiers who were helping to stabilize the country’s infrastructure. Basil said that although the U.S. Military trained Iraqi soldiers, the soldiers may have not received “the most consistent application of their training.”

“[The removal of U.S. troops] kind of left a vacuum that allowed for terror groups like ISIS to form in the northern areas [of Iraq] and across Syria,” Basil said.

Still, Basil said that it is challenging to form a concise, unwavering viewpoint about Middle Eastern politics. “[It’s hard to make generalizations about the Middle East when] week to week the situation … can drastically, drastically change,” Basil said, adding that his own perceptions evolved somewhat since his deployment, though he cannot pinpoint precisely how. “[It’s not a] one to one comparison really … my perceptions of it now versus my perceptions then,” Basil said.

Basil explained that, when preparing for his deployment, he focused less on the politics and more on mental preparedness. “You’re going to war … that’s something that you have to prepare yourself for,” he said. “With that in mind, you don’t really think so much of the politics of the region when it comes to your own personally well-being and how you’re going to deal with things.”

Before his deployment, Basil said that he perceived the Middle East as “a big violent desert that I was going to spend the next year of my life in,” which, for Basil, was a “difficult thing to adjust your mind to.”

Basil added that he thinks he might have an easier transition if he were to be deployed again, since he would have “a vague idea” of what to expect, though “it would be a whole new set of circumstances.”

As for the level of civilian support he and others received while deployed, Basil said that he felt that the troops were supported while he was overseas, but that the general public seemed to lose interest when the Iraq War no longer seemed like a hot story.

“Soldiers [were] still deploying,” Basil said, referring to when he returned to the United States, “and people [were] still dying, but I came back and found out that Kim Kardashian was important for some reason that I still haven’t figured out yet.”

However, Basil said that “it’s understandable to a degree” when Americans do not follow the war closely and feels that the Army received sufficient attention when he was overseas. “I don’t think that we lost support,” Basil said. “We were still getting letters and drawings from kindergarten classes.”

Four years after his return from Iraq in 2011, Basil has left the Army and is attending Mason on the GI Bill, a funding program established by the Army to support veterans’ needs, like college tuition.

The Office of Military Services works with student veterans at Mason. Basil said the office has helped him with “everything I’ve ever needed,” even if that’s just the need to hang out and mess around with fellow student veterans at the office.

Although Basil has never worked with these other veterans, he said there is “camaraderie” across the U.S. Military’s  branches. “You’ve [had] some shared experiences,” Basil said, explaining that he has a group of people he can spend time with any time he wishes to be around other veterans “just to get my bearings again.”

Basil said that the office has helped him work through all the questions he’s had about enrolling in benefits and using the GI Bill.  No matter his question, Basil said, the office puts in the work to find a solution. “The Office of Military Affairs has been absolutely fantastic,” Basil said.

Although Basil doesn’t know the exact number, he believes there are numerous veterans on Mason’s campus. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) chapter, a veteran community whose elected leadership usually consists of veterans, including those who fought in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, has several members who are Mason students.

Basil said that there is no easy answer for how to address the ongoing, complex turmoil in the Middle East. While Basil does not consider himself an expert on the topic, he believes that sometimes wars have to be fought, although they should always be “a solution of last resort.”

“[Going to war is a] very challenging situation,” Basil said.  “[Soliders] will take the task if they’re asked to.”


Julian Ausan, Army Veteran

JUlianJulian Ausan is a 31-year-old upperclassman at Mason majoring in government and international politics and minoring in international securities. Ausan is a veteran of the U.S. Army and was deployed for 11 years in the Middle East.

Ausan became interested in the Armed Forces, specifically the Army, in high school. Initially, he joined the Army because he wanted money for college, but after a couple of years, the Army became “a way of living” for him. He served for 11 years before starting his college career.

Ausan is currently a member of both the Army ROTC program at Mason and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). When he completes his undergraduate degree, Ausan will commission as an Army second lieutenant.

Ausan held the rank of sergeant first class (a senior non-commissioned officer) and most recently served as a battalion communications chief, a role that enabled him to serve in a variety of units, including infantry, field artillery and combat support.

“In different times in my career, in the 11 years that I was in, I had different functions, so I was not very limited to just communications,” Ausan said, explaining that this gave him a broad idea of how the Army functions.

As for deployment, Ausan explained that nobody can predict when his or her unit will be deployed, since much of this is determined on a rotational basis — a process known as dwell time.

During dwell time, a unit remains in the United States before learning the details of their deployment. According to Ausan, some units are more likely to be deployed than others. He was part of one such unit, which was deployed often throughout Ausan’s 11 years. With the exception of one assignment, Ausan was always assigned to an overseas unit.

When he was first deployed to the Middle East, Ausan did not mind being apart from the “hyper-nationalism” many Americans were feeling after September 11, 2001.

“[When I was first deployed] I was very young, and I wasn’t very educated, and if anything I was very naïve,” Ausan said.  “I couldn’t have told you where Iraq was on a map.”

Much has changed for Ausan since then. “I think I left from it jaded in my perspective in how I view the Middle East today,” Ausan said.  “I think I have a different appreciation for the Middle East.”

When asked how he views American civilians’ understanding of the Iraq War, Ausan expressed disappointment. “I think that American people are naïve, I think they really don’t know the facts,” he said.

He said that Americans’ perspectives have been and continue to be heavily influenced by the media cycle. “If it’s not in the news than people forget,” Ausan said. “[It is] a twofold issue when Americans forget about the war.”

Ausan explained that it can be a good thing when people don’t closely follow the media’s portrayal of military actions because this gives the Armed Forces and the U.S. Government the flexibility they need to accomplish their work without civilian criticism.

Still, Ausan believes there is an “accountability issue” between the Armed Forces and the government with regards to making sure that the government is held accountable to orders given by the Armed Forces.

As for ISIS, Ausan says that although he never had any interaction with the extremest group while deployed, he believes the uprising had to do with the timing of American troops’ withdrawal. “It was inevitable for it to digress and not be stable and everyone that was deployed knew that,” Ausan said. “I guess I kind of look at ISIS and say, ‘well it was inevitably going to happen, if it was not ISIS it was going to be a derivative of it.’”

Still, Ausan explains that one soldier’s views are of little consequence when it comes to the bigger picture. “When you’re in the Military it’s [a matter of accomplishing] whatever the needs are … to a certain extent you’re like a number,” Ausan said, adding that he is “reluctant to … [serve] full time.”

“At the end of the day the military is another extension of the political arm, which side of that arm do I want to be on?” Ausan said. “I love what I do, I love the Army. There’s no doubt that I am going back.” It’s only a matter of how and in what capacity he will serve, he explained, stating that “whatever the commitment is, I’ll be committed to it.”

Reflecting on his deployment, Ausan described the total commitment given by him and his fellow soldiers. “I look at Iraq, and I knew a lot of people that died. What did we get out of it? You do in the back of your mind start to question some of the decisions that are made … but at the end of the day you do what you have to do because that’s … what you do. … You swear an oath and you go in fully knowing that you’re going to die … but at the end of the day, you’re one number of a bigger picture that stabilizes the form of government that we have.”

Ausan chose to go to Mason because of its Pathways program with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), which enables students to transfer to four-year universities after completing two years at NOVA.

He said that while Mason is a rapidly growing research institution, the faculty “still care” about their students.

When it comes to how Mason’s administration treats veteran students, however, Ausan said “they’re not doing enough.” He believes the Office of Military Services (OMS) has been the primary driver of the conversation surrounding Mason’s vets, but the university could afford to do something more than what they’re doing today.

Ausan believes that American civilians did not do enough to help returning veterans after the Vietnam and Korean wars. “How do we stop that from happening again?” he asked, referring to the thousands of men and women returning from combat today.

Ausan believes the university ought to support its veteran students not “just because it’s politically correct,” but rather, out of true appreciation for their service to the country.