Serving in Iraq leads to Middle East study

By Karen A. Grava, CLAS Today

Living in Storrs for his last two years at UConn has been the longest Keary Salls has ever lived anywhere.

A foster child who attended high school in East Hartford and Rockville before graduating from Glastonbury High School, Salls, an individualized international relations major in CLAS, is used to being on the move.

An Army veteran, he spent one year in Iraq before enrolling at the Waterbury Campus. Once at UConn, he focused on Arabic and Middle Eastern history, politics and culture. He also studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt for a semester, enrolled in an intensive Arabic course in Haifa, Israel and while travelling through India, helped residents in Leh, Jammu and Kashmir India, dig out of a natural disaster caused by excessive rainfall and mudslides.

“I don’t like to sit still for a minute,” he says.

His interest in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies was born in Iraq, he says, where the people were welcoming and warm. “On more than one occasion, we would go in by helicopter, round up an entire family and search their compound for illegal weapons. We often would find nothing – we had been given a false report. And the head of the family, who had been handcuffed and hooded, would invite us back for tea.”

Salls will return to the U.S. Army after graduation having completed his transition through the Army’s Green to Gold program. He will be commissioned, on the day before graduation, as a second lieutenant in return for an agreement to serve six more years in the Army.

In November, he will attain another goal. He has been selected to be part of the Army’s most competitive branch – its aviation program. He will attend helicopter school in Alabama. But first he plans to spend a month traveling around Europe, and nine weeks in another intensive Arabic language course in Amman, Jordan.

“I can speak Arabic conversationally,” he says. “I feel when I read it that it is as if I always knew the language.”

A member of the Reserved Officer Training Program at UConn, Salls has enjoyed teaching field training to other ROTC students. “I’ve been teaching them how to set up a patrol base. It’s very rewarding because I’m teaching them the skills that they will need as infantry soldiers to stay alive.”

And ultimately, it’s teaching that he hopes to do full time. But first, he would like to earn a PhD in international relations focusing on the Middle East.


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