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thedrifter
01-15-07, 07:30 AM
Dean at Valley Forge Military College joins Marines in Iraq

Monday, January 15, 2007
By David Morrison, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As a young man, Lt. Col. John C. Church said he was not the best student.

But a string of role models helped motivate him and he earned degrees from the U.S. Naval Academy, American University and the Naval War College.

It was this encouragement that led him into a career in the classroom as a university professor since 1999.

It was this encouragement that led him into the dean's office at Valley Forge Military College in Wayne, Delaware County, in 2005.

And it was this encouragement that led him into Ramadi, Iraq, as the head of Detachment 3 of the 4th Civil Affairs Group of the Marine Corps, the only college dean stationed in Iraq.

Col. Church said his experience in the classroom is invaluable when applied to his troops, who number around 200.

"They're looking for someone to care about them," he said. "If they sense that this guy really cares about me, the performance you will extract from that person increases immeasurably."

In Iraq, Col. Church's group is involved in working with local officials to set up a strong infrastructure and help make them self-sufficient.

Col. Church said this involves a variety of duties, including renovating power plants, gaining support for local leaders and rebuilding schools that were closed for months or years.

"I place a high emphasis on the education of young people, whether in Valley Forge or Ramadi. You walk away from a mission like that saying, 'Today was a good day.' "

Col. Church has been with the 4th Civil Affairs Group since 2001 and was deployed to Iraq for the first time in 2004.

Col. Church said that while he can see they are making a difference, there are still some serious obstacles to their work.

"We know that when we execute our missions, there are insurgents out there that want us to fail," he said.

Tony McGeorge, president of Valley Forge, said Col. Church has all the qualities needed to be at the head of this assignment.

"A really good leader takes care of his people before himself," Mr. McGeorge said. "And John does that."

Col. Church taught leadership courses at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Valley Forge before he was named dean.

Mr. McGeorge said he was a very popular teacher before becoming dean, but still manages to keep close contact with the academy's cadets.

Col. Church had been deployed to Somalia, Macedonia and Kosovo before Iraq.

But he said this deployment was more difficult because it is the first time he's been away from his sons.

Col. Church left for his first tour of duty in Iraq when his wife, Mary Kay, was pregnant with his first son, John, but returned in time to see his birth.

He left for his current tour in September, three months before his wife gave birth to his second son, Travis Joseph.

The couple named him for two of Col. Church's friends, Capt. Travis Patriquin and Maj. Joseph McCloud.

Both were killed the week of his birth.

Mrs. Church said it was a very trying week for her husband.

"It was starting to hit close to home," she said. "I got more worried about him because he's spending 20 hours awake with four hours of restless sleep worrying about his guys."

Col. Church said he has only seen pictures of his month-old son, but has heard he likes to eat and sleep.

"When there are bad days, I just think about seeing my son, J.C., and meeting my new son," he said. "I can't wait."

Col. Church and his wife speak over satellite phone once a week, although the transmission is often spotty. They make sure to say "I love you" at the beginning of the conversation in case they are cut off.

Mrs. Church said she didn't want him to "press his luck" with the second deployment, but she understands the former Marine's sense of duty to his company.

"There were a lot of Marines who said they'd deploy again only if he went," she said. "It's fortunate he has a lot of good Marines with Iraq experience and mutual respect for each other."

Col. Church's current tour ends in the spring. He plans to pursue a doctorate when he returns and has researched mass communications programs at St. Joseph's and Temple University, among other places.

And he'll always have his office waiting for him at Valley Forge.

"We'll probably have a parade," Mr. McGeorge said.

(David Morrison can be reached at dmorrison@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1563. )

Ellie