Fighting for America, Fighting for Vets: The Story of Raj Srinivasan
Raj Srinivasan’s parents emigrated to Virginia from Chennai, India on H1-B visas when Raj was very young. During high school in Roanoke, Raj had trouble and felt isolated. “I was really intimidated as a kid,” he recalled in a recent visit with NDP. “I was decently smart. But I’d grown up the poorest in my neighborhood, the only Hindu, the brownest. I felt like I don’t belong here.”
Two things Raj never lacked, however, were academic drive and the quest to craft his own role in Virginia and in America. As a high school senior, Raj was accepted to Ivy League schools. He was also accepted to West Point.
In a striking act of self-reliance and patriotism, Raj decided to shake up his life and attend the military college. “I surprised my parents, and I surprised myself,” he said. Everything changed from that point on—his future, his experiences, his understanding of himself, and his friendships with the brothers who fought alongside him—not to mention his interest in future public service.
At West Point, Raj majored in Arabic and comparative politics. He traveled and studied around the world, in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar. He commissioned as an Armor officer after graduation, but was assigned to an infantry company
His next stop was Afghanistan—a mission that changed his life forever. He served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 in Kandahar. Aided by his fluent Urdu, which is spoken in some areas of Kandahar, most of his day-to-day work involved contracting for services with local Afghans supporting the American mission. He administered a million-dollar budget, and helped direct projects like new helicopter landing zones.
During some of these projects, his platoon’s mission was primarily defensive—protecting the area so the projects could continue. “Once the structures were built,” however, “we went offensive.” It was during one of these offensive shifts that Raj acquired his first searing experience with the violence of warfighting. Raj was with several members of his company on patrol in their Strykers—an eight-wheel vehicle—when they were hit by an IED. One member of the company lost his life.
One member of the platoon lost his life. “What was when it really became real,” Raj recalls, his voice stilled by the memory. “I was 23 years old. A lot of people don’t realize we were a bunch of kids.”
He completed his mission, working closely with tribal elders to negotiate acceptance of America’s projects.
When he returned home, Raj found himself exhibiting severe and surprising outbursts of anger. He reflected and read, and realized he was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. With the same combination of independence and courage that served him well in Roanoke and West Point, he decided not to retreat into the shadows or pretend things were all right—instead, he sought help, and began to speak out. In the process, he’s become an advocate on veterans’ issues such as increased access to counseling. In recent months, he’s authored a piece in Time magazine and has launched his own blog.
All this while residing in Northern Virginia, traveling the country as an admissions officer at West Point and enrolling in a long-distance master’s program at King’s College in London, where he’s studying philosophy and national security strategy.
In building a personal bridge between minority and majority cultures, serving his nation in a war zone, and taking the initiative to shine a spotlight on issues afflicting our nation’s troops, this Roanoke native exhibits familiar Virginian values of enlightenment, leadership, and independence. He’s the advance guard of the New Dominion that’s coming on strong.