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SIBC advisor endures Kuwait

Becky Hogan | Monday, October 9, 2006

Waking at 5:30 a.m. each day to a blazing sun in 130-degree weather, taking a quick shower on rotting floors and enduring both the stench of outdoor bathrooms and a 16-hour workday is the reality that Susan Soisson now faces.A mother of four from South Bend who served as a former assistant program manager for the Mendoza College of Business and advisor to Notre Dame’s Student International Business Council (SIBC), Soisson is on military leave in Kuwait as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army’s 336th Transportation Group.While stationed in Camp Arifjan, Soisson’s transportation unit performs missions in Iraq. Most of Soisson’s tasks are computer related, and while she has become accustomed to frequent power outages in her camp, she may never get used to missing her family.The greatest challenge she faces every day, Soisson said, is being so far away from her husband, Tom, and children Allie, Adam, Claire and Annelyse. “I miss impromptu hugs with my husband and kids, I miss having dinner together … watching a video on a Friday night and especially, lately, fall and Notre Dame football,” Soisson said. “It is the normal part of life that I crave.” But aside from her husband and kids, it is the small amenities – like indoor plumbing – that Soisson misses most.”The temporary bathrooms here really stink, and there is no indoor plumbing in the work or sleeping areas,” she said.In November 2005, Soisson was notified to transfer to Camp Arifjan. Initially, she didn’t think the deployment would become a reality. She had received similar notifications several times before, and usually the circumstances didn’t require her to leave. But after four months of training, Soisson arrived in Kuwait in July. Reflecting back on her deployment, Soisson said, “I believe that God has a plan for us all and I am still trying to fully understand my role here.”Soisson joined the Army in 1980 as a scholarship cadet. She later left active duty to move to South Bend with her husband so that he could open his pediatric practice. In 1992, she joined the Army Reserves as a way of meeting people and making some extra money. Besides longing for an Irish football game, Soisson also misses her contact with the Notre Dame community. In her role with the SIBC, Soisson said she enjoyed working with some of the University’s most dedicated and intellectually gifted students.And she realizes now, she said, how fortunate she was to have kind and devoted co-workers at Notre Dame – something she doesn’t encounter in her current work environment.”I work with some nice people, but I would say this has been an experience of isolation,” she said.While Soisson attributes this sense of isolation to the intensity of the mission that the service members endure each day, she is not willing to accept it. In addition to her regular duties, she receives quarterly training as the “Consideration of Others” program officer. “This is a real program, which reminds people to remember we are all of value,” Soisson said. “The message may get out, but the practice of kindness is far from perfected.”Given the lack of facilities in Arfijan and the intense working conditions that constantly challenge Soisson, she said it is difficult to be certain whether her sacrifices are truly improving the world. “I would like to believe that I am making a difference in the units we serve, [but] I am totally unclear on the strategic level if we are making a difference,” she said. During these trying times, Soisson said her faith provides her with strength “to make each day a possibility.”Her fellow service members, Soisson said, are what keep her strong during her time in Iraq and Kuwait. “The service members I work with are my heroes in many ways,” she said. “Most risk their lives for their country every time they leave post, and they are completely dedicated to their mission.” Two members of Soisson’s group have died, and she said attending the memorial services for these soldiers would be “a real test of emotions.”Soisson plans to return to her family in July 2007, just in time for her youngest daughter’s 11th birthday. She said she hopes to continue working at Notre Dame in some capacity, if not directly with the SIBC, and plans to apply for a Kroc Fellowship. “I have learned here we can all serve humanity on different levels and finding the right place for your service is essential,” she said. “We will see about God’s plan for the next phase.”