2017 Tillman Scholar
Gretchen entered the military in 2009 searching for a new direction. She chose to join the Air Force as an Airborne Linguist and soon found herself at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. As she learned the Iraqi dialect of Arabic, Gretchen was inspired daily by her teachers’ accounts of living in Iraq, their stories of joy and sorrow, and their resilience. Their pride in both Iraq and America remained with her long after shifting her focus to a new aircrew specialty.
Two deployments later, Gretchen found herself in Iraq acting as a stand-in translator in addition to her flying duties. She procured supplies for her crews, connected with local security forces, and spoke with civilian contractors for her team. Her most memorable moment was speaking to two teenage boys about their differences in faith and its portrayal in the United States, with one boy replying, “There are no problems between us, he is like my brother.” At that moment, Gretchen realized the importance of communicating to Americans the experiences of people from unfamiliar cultures, especially from the Middle East. She then decided to add Arabic to her passion for Cultural Anthropology upon her arrival at the Ohio State University.
Through her ethnographic work, Gretchen strives to provide opportunities for immigrants’ and refugees’ stories to be shared with and understood by more Americans. She believes that building stronger intercultural understanding in the United States and beyond will help us all embrace the beauty in our collective diversity.