The Iraq War came to Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart the other day in the form of a young woman. Army Reserve Capt. Ashleigh Fortier visited the...

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The Iraq War came to Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart the other day in the form of a young woman.

Army Reserve Capt. Ashleigh Fortier visited the Bellevue private school as part of its daylong Senior Seminar, which this year focused on those who come home from the war. Fortier, 36, of Tacoma, spent 14 months in Baqouba, overseeing military police and training Iraqi police officers. It changed her, and made coming home a struggle all its own.

“Even though we’re soldiers and people think we’re hardened, my heart hurts,” Fortier said. “And I am still trying to figure out where I fit in here.”

It was a lesson not only for the students, but all of us.

The seminar adopted the Voices in Wartime Education Project, which focuses on healing the trauma caused by war. The program was started by Andrew Himes of Seattle, a producer of the 2005 documentary “Voices in Wartime,” which chronicled writers’ responses to the conflict.

“We want to promote human engagement,” Himes said. “That’s the only way we can really understand war.”

Forest Ridge teacher Will Seagall brought the project to these seniors.

“Our country has been at war for their entire high-school career,” he said. “But sometimes it’s hard to tell here.”

Indeed, the campus sits on a ridge overlooking the mountains and lakes; the antithesis of a conflict in the sand. I watched Fortier cross the parking lot in her fatigues. She was just like these girls once.

Students watched the “Voices in Wartime” documentary, then wrote and talked about what they felt.

“The war is on the news every day, and you just become so jaded,” said one student.

Said another: “I don’t know how to feel; the war is just so massive. And the soldiers must have that, too. They just don’t know what to feel.”

In a voice that veered between confusion and resolve, Fortier spoke of the honor and duty of the Army Reserve.

She told of the grenade that went off 20 yards away from her, killing one of her best men. She told of the Iraqis she befriended, and how she wishes she could talk about the good things, as well as the pain.

“I don’t want to burden people,” she said, starting to cry. “I am OK with carrying around the pain myself.”

And she urged the students to reach out to those who, like her, had been to war and back.

“You have to let them know you’re available to them, to just sitting down and talking with them,” she said. “Even though I am here, I am very, very alone.”

The students left the room in near silence, but a few approached Fortier to talk.

One student confessed to losing her patriotism, until Fortier came to class. (“You make me proud,” she said.)

“Seeing you tear up paralyzed me at first because I didn’t know what to do,” said another. “But you made the war real for me.”

Fortier smiled with relief.

Mission accomplished.

(A benefit concert for “Voices in Wartime” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Triple Door in Seattle. For more information, go to

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

She wishes she were so brave.