Col. Tom Eichenberg ’76, M.S. ’77 is looking forward to celebrating both his 40th class reunion and Santa Clara’s 100th anniversary of the national ROTC program, along with ROTC classmates who’ve wrapped up careers at the Pentagon.
After graduating from the program and completing his M.S. in applied economics, Eichenberg reported for active duty at Hawaii’s famed Schofield Barracks in October 1977—the same filming location as the movie From Here to Eternity. There he met his wife, Yvonne Kuwana, at a dinner at the Pearl Harbor Officers Club. One year later, the couple married at the post before relocating to Fort Polk, just outsideof Leesville, Louisiana.
After decades of dual civilian and military reserve careers, Eichenberg was recalled to active duty when his command came up for rotation in Iraq in 2005, requesting a job as director of the National Iraqi Assistance Center (NIAC), a walk-in humanitarian assistance facility with “30 dedicated Iraqis on staff, Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds, who all got along and risked their lives every day to come to work.”
While director, Eichenberg oversaw support staff at the NIAC in addition to Kuwait City and the American Embassy in Amman, Jordan. “As a relatively small operation, we were at the lower end of thespectrum compared to the mega projects being run by the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development,” explains Eichenberg, “so what we did had immediate results.”
NIAC projects included directing the Baghdad Job Fair, locating missing persons, assisting battered women and children through safe houses and counseling, and providing sewing machines to help local women make and sell scarves at local bazars in Baghdad. The sewing project was set up as a way for war widows and wives who had invalid husbands to earn a living. Their wares were also sold in the gift shop of the American Embassy in Baghdad. The Center’s medical section assisted patients who had nowhere else to go outside of the NIAC. The Missing Persons Section was the busiest section and was able to locate over 2000 missing Iraqis (38% success rate.) The Medical Section received the most publicity. Through funding from Rotary Club International’s Gift of Life Foundation, we sent over 50 children and their guardians to the U.S. for life-saving heart surgeries. The Medical Section also sent 5 children for corneal transplants to Anadolu-Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Istanbul, Turkey. We helped distribute over 5000 wheelchairs from Free Wheelchair Mission in Irvine, CA. The Medical Section also ran the largest and most modern prosthetics clinic in Iraq.
While based in Baghdad, Eichenberg got the idea to form an impromptu SCU Alumni Chapter, which included Lieutenant General Joseph Peterson ’72 and Special Agent Bob Gorini ’71, after running into the latter as he sported an SCU t-shirt during an early morning gym workout.
His father, William L. Eichenberg ’41, served as an assistant professor of military science during WWII, brothers William L. Eichenberg ’65 and James R. Eichenberg ’77, and nephew James P. Eichenberg ’92 have all graduated from the ROTC program.
Eichenberg is planning on attending the SCU ROTC 100 Years Celebration on April 29th.