February 9, 2011

After Iraq Tour, Pettyjohn ’12 Pursues MBA

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In honor of Memorial Day, The Sun is republishing on its website profiles of the Cornellians who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire series can be accessed here.

This article was originally published on Feb. 2, 2011.

If there is one thing Evan Pettyjohn MBA ’12 misses about Iraq, it’s the food. “In Anbar province, I had the best kebab in the world,” he said.Until August 2010, Pettyjohn served alongside the Marines as a public affairs officer in Fallujah and Ramadi, located in Al Anbar to the west of Baghdad.For Pettyjohn, who graduated from Brown University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, serving in America’s armed forces was not only a family tradition, but was also a way of giving back. “I grew up in a military family. I had always valued the service,” he said. “But I had spent a lot of time in college having a good time, while people elsewhere were making sacrifices. So I thought that if I can spend four years being very fortunate, I could as well spend four years giving back.” Pettyjohn joined the Marines as an active member in the summer of 2006. After a year of training, he was deployed to Iraq twice — first in 2007 and then in 2009.“The first time you walk down the street, you are nervous,” he said. “I never had any close calls though. I was very fortunate.”Al Anbar province, where Pettyjohn was deployed, had been a center of strong local insurgency since the U.S. military arrived. However, the situation turned around in September 2006 after the “Anbar Awakening,” when prominent members of the region’s Sunni community joined forces to counter the influence of Al Qaeda throughout the country. “I got there in the summer of 2007 when things had finally started to get better,” Pettyjohn said. “By the time that I got to Anbar it was much better that it had been.”By serving as a public affairs officer, Pettyjohn had an opportunity to improve what he perceived as the U.S. forces’ greatest vulnerability: public perception. “Through my junior level position I was in charge of managing public communications,” he said. “I tried to communicate as best as possible to broaden the perspective of what was really occurring in the war and to create a more fully-informed American public.” Part of Pettyjohn’s job was to facilitate the work of American and international journalists covering the war, including New York Times correspondent and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid. At the same time, he also trained Iraqi officers to serve his role.For Pettyjohn, the mentality nurtured by his years of undergraduate study at an Ivy League university was an asset during his time in active service. “The way you are taught to think critically, openly and broadly is definitely very helpful,” he said. “This kind of mentality truly helps you for anything in life.”After four years of active service, Pettyjohn said he acquired the experience that helped him succeed during his first year at the Johnson School. “One of the great things about serving in the military is that you quickly develop leadership skills in a way that you could not imagine through any other job,” he said. “You become comfortable in dealing with ambiguity — a quality that has helped me as an MBA student here at Cornell.” Pettyjohn said upon arriving home from the battlefront, “you definitely realize you are fortunate.”“[By seeing] people in the flower of their youth who lose everything, you realize you are even more fortunate,” he said. When Pettyjohn arrived on campus this fall, he was still on active duty. A few days after ending active duty, he was promoted to captain by the University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.“One of the things that I like about Cornell it is that it’s the only Ivy League school that has an active ROTC program,” Pettyjohn said.Although he recognizes that war is disastrous, Pettyjohn said that no one currently knows if the military intervention in Iraq was necessary or not.“People tend to over-emphasize events occurring in their lifetime,” he said. “We will not really know until we have more historical perspective.”Despite the uncertainty, Pettyjohn is nonetheless very optimistic about the future of Iraq. “People have aspirations to be represented, have a voice and have political rights,” he said. “In five or ten years, Iraq could be an example for its neighbors, demonstrating how a turbulent and imperfect state can become something better.”

Original Author: Patricio Martinez