From Iraq tour of duty to the RNC

>From Iraq tour of duty to the RNC

By Michael Kunzelman / News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

ASHLAND — When John Merguerian returned home to Ashland from a yearlong
tour of duty in Iraq, many of his friends and neighbors assumed the war and
its horrors had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth.
They could not have been more wrong.
Merguerian, an Army reservist who served as an Arabic linguist in a
civil affairs battalion, said countless Iraqis told him in their native
tongue that their life is much better since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s
“Life is still tough for these Iraqis, but, that said, at least they
have some freedom now,” he said. “I feel we’ve done some good. There are
some positive things going on over there.”
Not only does Merguerian support the war, but he also looks forward to
playing a small part in trying to re-elect his commander in chief. The
30-year-old is heading to New York City this month to serve as an alternate
delegate at the Republican National Convention in New York City.
“I wanted to give the public a different perspective on the war in
Iraq,” he said.
Merguerian was recruited by Robert Semonian, a member of the
Massachusetts Republican State Committee. They both attend St. James
Armenian Church in Watertown.
“I felt that he would have an important message to give people, as
someone who served in Iraq,” Semonian explained. “He’s a young person, very
articulate, honest and straight-forward.”
Merguerian, a 1992 graduate of Ashland High School, became active in
Republican politics and volunteered for several GOP campaigns while he
attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he majored in
Arabic and Middle Eastern political science.
When he enlisted in the Army in 1997, his language skills quickly made
him a valuable asset. In Iraq, he served in the security intelligence
section of the civil affairs battalion.
He performed a wide range of tasks, “everything from doing humanitarian
work to collecting intelligence,” he said.
Merguerian admitted to being scared when he arrived in Iraq in April
2003 during a phase of the war he describes as the “looting period.”
“Everything was out of control,” he said. “Conditions weren’t good. We
didn’t know what was going to happen.”
But Merguerian said he always enjoyed his work with the Iraqi people, a
statement that often surprises his friends and neighbors.
“They said the media portrayed the war as posing a constant threat of
violence for the troops, with no diplomacy or communication between the
Americans and the people in the neighborhoods,” he recalled.
Merguerian said many of the younger soldiers, especially those whose
tours of duty have been extended, are “very upset with the Bush
But he has no qualms about supporting Bush over John Kerry.
“When I listened to Kerry’s speech (at the Democratic National
Convention), I didn’t hear him lay down a plan for what he wants to do
post-war in Iraq,” Merguerian said.
Merguerian’s father, Haig, is proud of his son’s war service. But he
cannot say the same about his son’s Republican credentials.
“He’s on the other side,” he said with a laugh.
A strong Kerry supporter, Haig Merguerian has been a registered
Democrat ever since immigrated to the United States from Armenia in 1967.
“I don’t know why he’s still supporting the Republicans,” Haig
Merguerian said. “But I’m not going to tell him not to go (to the
convention). He can do whatever he wants.”