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‘We were mediocre infantrymen’

UH student and Iraq veteran chronicles the proud and unglamorous realities of combat in his published memoir

Goldsmith makes a friend after searching a house for weapons in the Qahira neighborhood of Baghdad.

 

By Alvin Park

Andrew Goldsmith, a 26-year-old philosophy major at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, always dreamed of being a part of war.

Born and raised in mellow Redondo Beach, Calif., where he spent his days surfing and skating, then 19-year-old Goldsmith was eager to escape the boredom of his lazy hometown life by joining the military.

“It really just came to me while I was sitting in economics class in community college, bored,” said Goldsmith. “I call it the ‘call of adventure.’ It just kind of struck me.”

With the United States still reeling from the 9/11 attacks years later, the tragedy’s ubiquitous presence in the media reinforced Goldsmith’s thoughts of joining the Army.

He enlisted in 2004 and spent the entire year doing basic training before being stationed in Colorado for Iraq training. Goldsmith then spent 2006 in the Diyala province of Iraq, and graduated from the United States Army Ranger School in 2007.
In October of 2008, after spending most of the year in Baghdad, Goldsmith found solace in Hawai‘i during an 18-day mid-tour leave. As he fell in love with the state during his stay, he decided to apply to UH Mānoa.

“[Hawai‘i] was the polar opposite of what life is like in Iraq,” Goldsmith said. “It was very mellow, low-key, a different wavelength, and I figured that coming to Hawai‘i and being a student here would be healthy for me. It would help me recover and rest from five years in the military.”

Goldsmith returned to the Middle East after leave to resume his duties, but received his acceptance letter to UH Mānoa one month later in Baghdad.

THE NEXT CHAPTER

After leaving the army, Goldsmith started his first semester at UH Mānoa in fall 2009. It was around this time that an idea to write a memoir based on his experiences — the good and the bad — began to coalesce.

“I kept on reminiscing and jotting down notes from all my experiences in the Army,” he said. “It was something I had to do. The memories, the stories and interactions were very cathartic to write down.”

Goldsmith enjoys some down time after a mission in the Diyala Province of Iraq.

Goldsmith spent 2010 writing, editing and self-publishing his book, which was released in June 2011. He titled it “Zarqawi’s Ice Cream: Tales of Mediocre Infantrymen.”

The term “mediocre infantrymen,” a reoccurring theme throughout the book, is a reflection of the at-times mundane and tedious reality of war that often got the best of him, said Goldsmith.

Hoping to encapsulate all aspects of war, Goldsmith wrote the book to “capture an honest, unflinching look at what it really means to be an infantryman in the modern Army – with all the stuff that comes with it.”

Michael Durkin, Goldsmith’s friend and fellow service member, said the book was a real look at their time in the Army.

“He pretty much told it how it was. Not just the good or the bad,” Durkin said, who is mentioned multiple times throughout the book.

The book is a collection of 35 war stories and includes episodes such as Goldsmith and Durkin’s quarrels with the Army base cooks, as well as the chapter after which the book is named.

In the chapter titled “Zarqawi’s Ice Cream,” Goldsmith recalls the manhunt to kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Islamic militant who was responsible for a series of attacks and bombings during the Iraq War.

“In April 2006, a mission came down one night to capture or kill Zarqawi. The briefing was clear: if you see a blue car, pump it full of holes or blow it up – just kill him,” Goldsmith said. “So [the infantrymen] got all excited and, long story short, it just ended up being another nonsense mission.”

The infantrymen realized that Zarqawi had cleared his hideout hours before an infantry invasion – leaving behind only a freezer stocked with Zarqawi’s ice cream.

As an ironic reflection of the type of missions that Goldsmith and the other ‘mediocre infantrymen’ experienced, Goldsmith felt it was a fitting theme for his memoir.

Goldsmith (right) patrolling with fellow service member Michael Durkin (left) in Ur, Baghdad.

“The mission didn’t turn out the way we wanted it,” he said. “‘Zarqawi’s Ice Cream’ was basically the infantry mission that we thought was going to be the real, defining mission — but it just ended up being just as bad as any of them.”

Despite disappointments and misconceptions, Goldsmith said he has no regrets over his experiences, and has many good memories.

“My book captures triumph, as well as tragedy,” he said. “For every ‘Zarqawi’s Ice Cream,’ there’s another occasion where I saw incredible things from my friends and from myself.”

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Now out of the Army and finishing off his final semester at UH Mānoa, Goldsmith is hoping to help the student veteran community on campus by being an active member of the UH Mānoa Student Veterans Organization.

A campus group that strives to provide resources and support to military veterans, the SVO’s vision is to see all veterans succeeding in higher education and life after graduation, while also serving as a community support group.

“Like any organization, there is strength in numbers,” said Sam Kim, president of the SVO. “Plus, it’s always good to get to know new and interesting people, such as Andrew Goldsmith.”

And although Goldsmith holds more of a modest demeanor, he acknowledges the changes that he undertook during his time in the Army.

“I’ve grown up a lot since then,” said Goldsmith. “The moments in the military in Iraq were so defined and pivotal that it’s like jumping off a cliff – there’s no going back now.”