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Veterans Day is Friday, and UT Knoxville wants to thank the more than 629 faculty, staff, and students who are active-duty US military, veterans, reservists, or members of the National Guard. Each day this week, we’ll tell the story of a UT Knoxville student-veteran.

KNOXVILLE — When Michael Steidl was in the US Army, he spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq—doing routine military work, overseeing construction projects, and eventually, advising senior Iraqi military officers.

Mike Steidl
Steidl, on the right, on foot patrol in Taji, Iraq, a city just north of Baghdad.

Steidl, 30, who is now working on his law degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said what he saw in Iraq fueled his desire to study law with hopes of becoming a state prosecutor.

“I saw how much lawlessness there was in Iraq,” he said. “It reinforced my desire to want to learn our American laws and understand how they keep our society glued together.”

Steidl graduated from Tullahoma High School in 2000 and then attended Western Kentucky University on a four-year ROTC scholarship. Upon his graduation in 2004, he was commissioned in the US Army.

Steidl spent 5 1/2 years in the Army, rising in the ranks from second lieutenant to captain.

His oversaw eight construction sites during a twelve-month deployment to Iraq with an engineering battalion—and his crews completed the projects an average of six days ahead of schedule and within budget.

He supervised maintenance of transportation and computer equipment and kept the books on military property worth millions of dollars.

He oversaw nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons training and developed courses to train new soldiers in combat tasks, battle drills, weapons training, and combat life-saving skills.

Later in his military career, Steidl volunteered to be an adviser to the Iraqi military.

Steidl with the Iraqi colonel whose battalion he was advising.

“When I was in Iraq on my first appointment, with the engineering battalion, I rarely interacted with Iraqi. When I did, it was in hostile situations,” he said. But as Steidl got to know the country and the people, he realized that most Iraqis were just ordinary folks trying to live their lives peacefully. The hostile Iraqi insurgents were their oppressors, too.

“As an adviser, I mentored senior leaders of a 770-man Iraqi mechanized infantry battalion on operational, training, and administrative staff functions and protocols,” he said. They worked on restoring public safety, government control, and basic infrastructure needs in a Baghdad neighborhood. He helped them understand the importance of strategic planning, training, and personnel management.

The task was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of his military career.

“The Iraqis truly appreciated us helping them,” he said.

After his discharge from the Army, Steidl returned to WKU to get his MBA. Then he enrolled in UT’s College of Law and is scheduled to graduate in 2013.

“Being in the military made me grow up faster,” he said. “Six months after I graduated from college, I was in charge of thirty people, some of them my age, some a couple of years older, and some a couple of years younger.”

He sometimes got minimal training for complex jobs and had to learn to decipher military rules and regulations.

Steidl said his time in the Army helped him hone his communication and comprehension skills, develop better time management habits, and live a more disciplined life.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,