Colleen Wilcox | February 12, 2019
As an infantry platoon leader in combat operations in Baghdad, Alex Ambrose felt the weight of two countries on his shoulders. It was March 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq in what was known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The schoolteacher from New Jersey was deployed to Baghdad to assist with nation-building efforts. With the insurgency, his mission morphed into a mixture of nation building and combat operations. He quickly found himself in the middle of the desert leading 30 men in Humvees through the streets of Baghdad.
It was a very complex and complicated time, recalls Ambrose. At any given moment, his team was prepared to eliminate the enemy. But at the same time, they were working with local officials to help them rebuild, even running polling stations during the first election in 2004. As an educator, he also worked closely with the schools, ultimately winning what he describes as the “hearts and minds” of many people living in Baghdad.
After returning home from war, Ambrose worked as a fourth-grade teacher in downtown Detroit and continued with the Michigan National Guard, training the next batch of officers. When his wife accepted a position at Saint Mary’s College, they relocated to South Bend. He soon completed his doctorate and joined the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning. Once on the front lines of war, now Ambrose finds himself on the front lines of another fight: bringing peace and prosperity to war-torn countries. He’s part of a team of faculty and staff at the University of Notre Dame who are working to empower a university in Afghanistan to not only develop one of the nation’s first master’s degrees, but to do so in the areas of finance and accounting, fields critical to limiting corruption in the country.
“I’ve tried the military route and combat operations can only do so much,” says Ambrose.
“Military may try to kill terrorism or terrorists. But to me, education is where you can get a shot at killing terrorism.”
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