Erik Schiemann (MBA ’09) got an unwelcome surprise before one of Bob Connolly’s economics exams in fall 2005. A Western Union telegram from the Army ordered him back to active duty, destination Afghanistan.
Schiemann took the exam, but bitterness sank in afterward. On reserve status with the Army, he had to leave Kenan-Flagler after about five months. “Having just gotten a taste of everything good in the MBA program,” he recalls, “it was quite a shock.”
Engaged to be married, Schiemann and his fiance, Janet, hurried their plans and wed before he deployed. After five months of training at Fort Bragg, he spent a year in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, where he led about 75 soldiers in helping to reconstruct and mentor the provincial government.
Schiemann, 29, who returned from Afghanistan in March, will reenter UNC Kenan-Flagler in August. Before he enrolled the first time, he had spent 14 months in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division as part of the unit that invaded the country in March 2003.
A captain, then 24 and on active duty, Schiemann was in charge of 130 men, who fought to defeat Saddam Hussein and the Baath party. For the last half of his time there, he dealt with ambushes and other guerilla tactics by insurgents.
Schiemann with Afghani children“Whatever reason we went into Iraq,” Schiemann says, “every person I talked to, every place we went, they were happy that Saddam was gone... The people just wanted a better life for themselves.”
After Iraq, Schiemann received an honorable discharge and went on reserve status, on which he remains. For eight months, he taught a leadership class to Army cadets at the University of Michigan.
Then Schiemann applied to UNC Kenan-Flagler. Though he’d been trained in leadership and had been in charge of many people and expensive equipment in the Army, Schiemann says he didn’t have the technical skills to be in business. With an MBA, he may pursue investment banking and private equity or venture capital.
Schiemann finished the core curriculum before he left for Afghanistan. “The business school was tremendously supportive,” he says. Classmates threw parties for his wife and him. Connolly sent school supplies and winter garb to Schiemann, who distributed the goods to children.
In Afghanistan, Schiemann traversed the mountains, taking doctors to Ghazni to provide medical services, delivering rice and beans and doing other tasks to expand the local government’s reach. American soldiers helped create wind energy systems and were involved with building bridges, roads, hospitals, schools and water retention dams as they managed $25 million in reconstruction projects, he says.
The lack of unanimous American support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan frustrates Schiemann. “I’ve lost soldiers in both wars. I’ve seen all the good things soldiers do. Any time you hear somebody questioning that, it’s always going to sting,” he says but adds he is glad Americans have the right to voice opinions.
Schiemann’s experience in war — solving problems and providing leadership in challenging, multicultural environments — will help him at Kenan-Flagler, he says.
And he used his business school experience in Afghanistan. Drawing from classes that focused on creating a market, he talked with merchants about how to gain an edge over competitors and supply and demand.