February 2, 2011

Fighting in Afghanistan, David Eisler ’07 Stays Near Home

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On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, The Sun is republishing profiles of Cornellians who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on its website. The entire series can be accessed here.

This article was originally published on Feb. 3, 2011.

David Eisler ’07 regularly talks with his family and fiancée on the telephone. He communicates with them via e-mail. He can hear them and see them as he talks to them through Skype. He goes on the Internet and reads about news from his hometown. It’s almost as if he were living on the very street where he grew up.

“But at the same time, I look outside the window and I see that I’m clearly not there,” he says.

Eisler is currently in Afghanistan, living among the mud huts, squalor and perpetual threat of violence that accompany many of those who pledge their services to the Army.

“It’s been a weird sort of war,” Eisler said, referring to how connected soldiers are to the Internet and, through the Internet, to their friends, family and all the goings-on of their lives that they left behind — the lives they could be living had they done things differently.

For Eisler, his decision to leave home and join the Army was not so much a product of “rationale or reason.” It was more of a “gut feeling,” he said.

“It was just one of those things that I decided I had to do more than I wanted to do,” Eisler said. “I always wanted to do something bigger than myself as an individual. I’m not satisfied with just a simple life of being a business man — not that those things aren’t great for other people, but for me I always felt the need to try and do something.”

Eisler started feeling the pull of the Army when he was a teenager, but he was never entirely resolved on entering the military. His feelings wavered from time to time, particularly when he first transferred to Cornell as a sophomore from the University of South Florida.

After joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at USF, Eisler did not continue his involvement as a sophomore transfer at Cornell — he thought he had lost interest in it.

“But come my junior year, I [was] trying to talk myself both in and out of doing the military,” Eisler said. He then joined ROTC for his junior and senior year, paving the way for his enlistment in the Army after graduation.

Eisler acknowledges Cornell’s role in helping him ultimately decide to join the Army. Initially, he thought that he would not be able to rejoin ROTC his junior year. But he decided to walk through the door and see how things went, and, as it turned out, the ROTC department was happy to have him.

“You know there are so many options available [at Cornell], and whatever you choose to do there you can do it,” Eisler said. “And despite the fact that I studied something completely unrelated to what I ended up doing, I still had the chance to do [what I wanted].”

Eisler joked that he was one of the few Cornell physics and astronomy students to have a job after graduating. His profession would be that of a soldier, not quite related to physics or astronomy, but  it was a job nevertheless.

Eisler was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after he graduated from Cornell. He trained in Oklahoma for about six months. He was then stationed in Germany for six weeks before he was sent to Iraq in November 2008.

“In Iraq, I was heavily involved in local civil affairs and governance,” Eisler said. He explained that he would work with the government and security forces of small towns in Iraq, helping them with matters of security, governance and economic development.

In addition to performing his duties as a soldier, Eisler joined a large contingent of members of the military in keeping a “milblog,” or military blog, chronicling his experiences in Iraq. Titled “Playing in the Sandbox,” Eisler took advantage of his constant access to the Internet to illuminate his readers to the realities of life in the Army and the situation in Iraq.

The content of each post varies from descriptions of the Iraqi climate and terrain — “sandy” and “hot” are frequent adjectives peppered throughout the blog — to anecdotes about Eisler’s interaction with Iraqi children who would often summon all their English knowledge to beseech Eisler for his pen or sunglasses.

“I’ve also learned — the hard way — never to actually give them anything, unless you want an Iraqi kid entourage following you around town,” Eisler writes in his post.

Eisler started keeping a second blog, “Playing in the Sandbox … Again,” when he was sent to Afghanistan in June 2010.

The connectivity afforded to soldiers in today’s modern warfare clearly yield advantages.

“I’m certainly happy that I can talk to my family [on a regular basis],” Eisler said, but he cautioned that it is not without its drawbacks.

“Despite the fact that we might be more intimately connected through the Internet … it almost serves to underscore the fact that we’re not there,” Eisler said.

When Eisler was in Kuwait waiting to be sent to Iraq, his stepfather had a stroke. He mentioned that, because of the Internet, he and many other soldiers are well aware of problems going on at home in a timely manner.

But regardless of how close soldiers may feel to home because of the Internet, “you’re still isolated,” Eisler said, and there is often a feeling of helplessness among soldiers over not being able to do anything about problems at home, despite being aware of them soon after they develop.

“It adds a whole element of thought process to people here who have to both concentrate on the mission and survival and everything going on here as well as whatever’s going on at home,” Eisler said. “The fact that we have the ability to connect with friends and family at home makes us feel like we’re required to.”

Eisler noted that oftentimes he felt the need to disconnect himself in order to better concentrate on his immediate duties in Iraq or Afghanistan rather than those he had little control over back at home.

Eisler is soon to return home and reconnect with those friends and family not via the Internet, but in person. Eisler said he will be leaving the Army in six to eight months, whereupon he will return to the U.S. and pursue graduate school.

Eisler has decided not to continue his undergraduate education in physics, but rather to pursue another area more in keeping with his tour of duty in the Army.

“At this point, I’m more concerned with problems of the earth as opposed to of the universe,” he said.

Eisler’s motivation to do something bigger than himself has not dissipated with the approaching end of his military involvement overseas. He has applied to programs in international security studies and international relations to further pursue the good he tried to create in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s what I feel like I’ve got to do next.”

Original Author: Seth Shapiro