MISSOULA – Patrick Beckwith directs the Military and Veterans Services Office at the University of Montana. Normally he recruits military-connected students to campus and assists them once they arrive.
Beckwith has a different mission this fall. As part of the Montana Army National Guard, he deployed to Iraq to serve as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, which works to stabilize the region after the defeat of ISIS.
“I am a lieutenant colonel serving as a base director in charge of support and infrastructure operations,” he said. “It is basically like running a small town the size of Hamilton, except with more weapons. But then again, Hamilton is probably well-armed, too.”
A native of Issaquah, Washington, Beckwith is a graduate of West Point Military Academy. He went on to serve more than five years as an Army intelligence officer for tactical units in Iraq and Afghanistan warzones. He then worked as an Army operations officer for the ROTC program at UM from 2013 to 2017, when he transitioned off active duty to leadership roles with the Montana Army National Guard and also worked as a high school teacher at two Missoula schools. He returned to UM as director of the Military and Veteran Services Office in January 2022.
Beckwith and his wife, Lauren – whom he describes as his “high school sweetheart, best friend and better half” – have two children: son Charlie, 9, and daughter Quinn, 7. He left Montana for Iraq in August, and his deployment is expected to last nine to 12 months. He hopes to be home before the Griz football team kicks off the 2024 season.
Though he describes things in Iraq as “a bit crazy lately,” Beckwith found time to answer a few questions about his deployment for the UM News Service just in time for Veterans Day. He said he was honored to raise awareness of the servicemembers who make up a small but vital part of our community.
Do you know of any other current university officials who have deployed like you have?
I think it is rare. Of course, our current University president, Seth Bodnar [also a West Point graduate], is very familiar with the deployed environment and military lifestyle. I also know Jace Whitaker with UM Housing is in the Navy Reserves and served several overseas deployments. There are a couple other UM officials with military service, but I am not sure if they deployed.
How did your deployment come about? And did you have a choice to go or not?
I transitioned off active duty in 2017 and into the Montana Army National Guard. As a member of the National Guard, I serve the traditional one weekend a month and a couple weeks a year as part of the standard training cycle. Units from Montana are called upon often to support different missions abroad, to include combat deployments. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would get asked to support a deployment, and I fully recognize the obligation to fulfill my duties no differently than any other soldier. It is not fair or reasonable to expect someone else to go in my place as if my family, job or commitments are somehow more important. It might sound cliché, but, ultimately, I chose to serve in the Army. Therefore, I accept and understand that the Army can choose when and where I am needed.
Why is your deployment and mission important? Why do this?
We all watched ISIS tear apart the Middle East with violence and extremism. This deployment and the mission of Operation Inherent Resolve is a commitment of Coalition Forces determined to safeguard Iraq and Syria from the threat of ISIS coming back. I do this mission knowing that the region deserves our assistance and guidance to find strength again as a nation protected from extremist organizations. I see value and importance in stopping extremist regimes that oppress their people and use fear and violence to spread their beliefs.
What has been the most challenging part of your deployment so far?
The most challenging part is being away from my family. I deployed three times in the past, but at that stage in life Lauren and I did not have any kids. Not having kids made deployment less hard, but certainly not easy. Now, with kids, I feel the separation in a whole new context. I am grateful for busy long days that keep my mind engaged as to not remind myself that the end of the day won’t include the smiles and hugs from my family.
Many Americans may not realize we still have significant forces deployed in Iraq. How are you received or treated by regular Iraqis?
The people here receive U.S. and Coalition Forces kindly and as partners. The local populace understands that U.S. and Coalition Forces are here to advise and assist as part of the overall stabilization of Iraq and the region. I work frequently with Iraqi security forces and contractors, and the meetings are very friendly. We often share stories and photos of our families, and it creates a connection at the most fundamental levels of humanity. No matter how different our cultures, we share many commonalities as fathers and husbands that bridge almost any conversation with empathy and understanding.
With the current situation in the Middle East, are you in a heightened state of alert? How safe do you feel?
The region is certainly on high alert with the war between Israel and Gaza. Safety is hard to define, but I feel grateful for the capabilities of the U.S. military during times of tension and unrest. We are prepared to handle whatever threat might arise, and our leaders prioritize the protection of military forces. In this regard, I feel confident in our abilities to mitigate any risks that might develop.
We reached out to you using your University email. Are you still conducting business for UM’s Military and Veteran Services Office when you have time?
I am conducting minimal business within my role as the director of the Military and Veterans Services Office. That small amount of work helps me stay connected to key priorities and initiatives that are on-going while I am gone and will allow me to jump back into the mix once I return. Finding time is not always easy, and most waking hours are spent working, but staying connected to UM through work is refreshing and brings me a sense of normalcy.
Who on your team is holding down the fort back at UM while you are away?
This is tough to answer. So many people are stepping up while I am gone. Mary Kreta and her team are all taking the reins on key enrollment priorities for my office. Caleb Logan and Daryl Lee are fulfilling critical roles as military-affiliated student advisers and certifying officials. I also rely on student veteran workers such as Tanner Liermann and Kimberly Torheim as fantastic peer advisers and key leaders for the Student Veterans Organization. Tracy Mitchell with the ROTC program is also a key player in my absence. Frankly, there’s many more colleagues that are helping keep the momentum while I am gone. I am incredibly grateful.
What is the most eye-opening thing you have learned or experienced so far?
Hands down it is the Coalition Forces. I am amazed at such a diverse group of military personnel collectively unified in their effort to help Iraq. It is fascinating and inspiring to work with such dedicated people. I interact daily with military members from many places, including the United Kingdom, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Hungary, Canada, Netherlands, Australia and several others. The opportunity to learn about the cultures and history of other countries while collectively working together on the same mission is an enriching life experience.
Anything you want to add?
I am grateful for the community behind me. So many people reach out with support and encouragement. I recognize that I am just one of many military members past, present and future within our community. Although the spotlight is currently on me because I am deployed, it is important to know that the University, Missoula and all of Montana is home to many servicemembers and veterans. They represent a small but mighty piece of our community that I am proud to stand among.
Source: University of Montana