Since departing Natchitoches in 2007, Dr. Scott Roach has had quite an adventure in life, pursuing personal and professional opportunities in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The 1972 initiate of the Beta Omicron Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity served as chapter archon during his undergraduate tenure at Northwestern State University and later served as chapter advisor in the early 2000s. He played a critical role in the chapter’s re-chartering process, which began in early 1999, and continued to mentor student leaders in the years that followed.
The longtime professor of marketing and business at NSU left the university in 2007 for an opportunity in Iraq.
The B.O. Blast newsletter recently caught up with Brother Roach to learn about his experiences.
B.O. Blast: How did you come across these business opportunities abroad?
Scott Roach: In 2005 while visiting my sister in DC where she was temporally stationed as a Department of the Navy civilian manager, I had the opportunity to visit with an old friend, Joe Cusumano, a retired 3 star general who is also on NSU Long Purple Line. At the time, he was in charge of the largest civilian logistics project in the history of the world. I talked with him about working on that project. I’ve always consulted while teaching, in order to practice what I preach. He gave me the website where I could apply. I did. Two years later, in May 2007, I got a call from the Chief of Staff of the company with which I had applied. He apologized for not reaching me earlier that day but the camp had taken “incoming” and it delayed his call. A month later I was spiraling into Baghdad airport doing what they called a “combat landing.” We quickly taxied up to the terminal where we were told to “grab your bags and run to the terminal.” They were afraid of the all too often sniper fire. Inside the terminal were men with automatic weapons and determined scowls. There was no electricity and there was a coat of dust on everything. Welcome to Iraq. I was in Iraq from 2007-2010 and 2011-2014, Kuwait and Afghanistan for short stays of a few weeks, with many interim stops in Dubai. Now I live in Thailand, where I am teaching in an MBA program.
B.O. Blast: What kind of work were you doing in the Middle East? What made that experience most memorable?
Scott Roach: When I got to the Dubai airport on my first trip into Iraq I thought that I had walked into a room filled with the cast from an Alibaba movie. It seemed that I was the only one in “Western” dress. I flew into Iraq and found myself surrounded by people from all over the world. My company provided logistical support to the military fighting in Iraq and several other countries including Kuwait and Afghanistan. We purified water, generated their electricity, fed them, housed them, handled sewage, did their laundry, and carried their ammunition. We did everything but fight so that the military would not have to do these things.
I came into Balad Air Force Base, a joint base between the Army and the Air Force affectionately known as “Anaconda.” My role was as a Deputy Project Manager (DPM), one of three who served the project manager at that site. The camp was about 5 square miles “inside the wire” with about 500 buildings, none of which could be seen because all were surrounded with 12 feet tall, two feet thick and six feet wide concrete structures. The are called T-walls because they look like upside down capital T’s.
Our job was, as briefly described above, was to take care of the needs of the military. That is a hard thing to do in the best of situations. We did it under circumstances in which the military population would go from 2,000 to 20,000 over night with no warning. It was a logistical nightmare and logistical heaven for someone who liked to solve enormous problems in minutes or hours.
It was a place were I had an office, like any office, with soldiers testing their 50 cal. machine guns every few minutes as they went outside the wire, where helicopters flew over constantly at a height of 50 feet and jets took off and landed every few minutes. It was a place where over the duration of the war over 300 persons who worked for our company and its subcontractors died as a result of enemy activities. I’d been there about a month when the camp took incoming rockets or mortars or my first time. When I heard the klaxon I put on the helmet and vest that I had been issued and dropped to the floor as we had been taught. Then, when the first explosions were over, I made my way to the bunker. A crane operator had been unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during that episode and he never went home.
Soldiers were required to have their weapons with them at all times. We were forbidden to touch a weapon. So, it became normal to see people with rifles and pistols going about their business shopping in the PX or eating in the cafeteria.
After about 5 months as a DPM, I was promoted to Senior Manager and put in charge of training the tens of thousands of workers who served the military for our company and its subcontractors. While people came over on their one-year contracts, where either party could cancel on the spot, with some basic skills, they had to learn our systems for doing things so that our people could provide consistently high quality services at the 50-plus military encampments or bases. This was a bit difficult due to physical separation, but even more different because our workforce was made up of people from likely 50 or more countries. You could walk through my building and it felt that you were in the United Nations with all the languages being spoken. We worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and got two 10-day vacations and one 15 day vacation over a year. It was challenging and extremely rewarding to be serving the troops in this manner.
B.O. Blast: What happened after the end of your first year in Iraq?
Scott Roach: My year came to an end and I flew home. That day I went to my office at NSU, from which I had taken a one year leave of absence, sat in my chair and said to myself, “I can’t do this.” You see, in academia you may come up with an idea, which is then explored by a committee where it is talked about for a time and maybe, just maybe that idea becomes a program or a project a year or two later. In Iraq we would be standing talking to the military who said “We need a building over there,” and two weeks later we were standing in that building. In academia you seldom see the results of your teaching efforts. Though, I do look back with great pleasure on the night that I was having an adult beverage at the bar at Mama’s and former student came up to me shouting, “Dr. Roach… Dr. Roach… I’m actually using that “stuff” you taught us!. In Iraq results were tangible and immediate. So, I took a month getting my house ready to rent and went back to Iraq for two-and-half more years.
B.O. Blast: You’re now living and working in Thailand. How do you wind up there?
Scott Roach: On one of my R&Rs, the mini-vacations that happened three times a year, I was told by one of my female direct reports that I should go to Koh Samui in Thailand. I did, and I fell in love with the food, the people and the culture. Oh, I’ve always been a bit of a picky eater. But on the plane to Thailand I got to thinking, I’ve never even been in a Thai restaurant. I know nothing about Thai food. So, I made myself a promise that if people around me were eating something and they did not appear to be dying, I’d try it. That night I was at a little outside bar taking in my surroundings when a young lady came and sat a couple of stools down from me. A guy pushing a cart with food on it (there are always guys pushing carts with food on them in Thailand) came by. The girl got up and bought something from him. I was trying to figure out what it was, she noticed me looking and offered me some. I took a look in the clear plastic bag (most Thai street food comes in clear plastic bags) and it was ants. My immediate thought was that I had not shared my promise with anyone! My second thought was: what can it hurt. Ants are good! Yum!
After about three years in Iraq I decided I’d had enough of the 12 to 16-hour days, the 120+ degree temperatures, the dust and living in a shipping container. I searched online to see what international universities might have job openings in Thailand. I took an R&R to Bangkok and a two-hour taxi ride to Chon Buri, which is just outside Pattaya, and applied to teach in their business program. Here, I met Nuy, my now wife, and enjoyed teaching mainly Thai students who spoke varying levels of English. I came to miss the challenges and tangible results of working in Iraq, contacted one of the senior managers and found myself back in Iraq. This time I was assisting the military in closing camps as the U.S. shut down operations in Iraq. After about six months, the head of a new project asked me to leave the old project, which was shutting down, and come develop a management program for Iraqi workers.
B.O. Blast: Which observations in the Middle East were most eye-opening?
Scott Roach: My company hired hundreds of Iraqi citizens, which is no small feat. You could not conduct job fairs because if Iraqis were known to work for us, they were many times killed by other Iraqis. Most of them had no skills, so they learned on the job to be carpenters, mechanics, IT specialists and other trades that we required. Some had been with us for 8 or so years and spoke English better than some of my students at NSU. They were capable and knew their trade, but had no idea how the project fit together or how to manage or supervise others. That became my job. Over the next two-and-a-half years I developed and taught a management program to select Iraqi employees so that they could become managers for our company. They now provided similar logistical support for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. I’ll never forget the day that I took up the topic of “planning” with these men and women. I’d planned to cover the basics in a few days. After about 15 minutes, one of my brightest “students” stopped me and said, “Please tell me this again. I did not know that you could plan. We have always been taught not to think about the future. Just work and Allah will show the way.” My few days turned into several weeks while the men and women took their first steps and shaping the future through planning.
B.O. Blast: With security and logistical concerns a priority, where did you live?
Scott Roach: Housing was always interesting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most often, we lived in Containerized Housing Units (CHUs). They were one room with a bed, a small closet and a dresser. Some had a bathroom with a shower while others shared bathroom facilities. In Afghanistan I had a true shipping container (well half of one) that served as my office and my bedroom. The toilet facilities were about 50 yards away across the snow. I could literally lay on the floor of that container and touch all four walls at the same time.
B.O. Blast: When did you return to teaching?
Scott Roach: All good things must end and this did too and in 2014 I returned to Bangkok to seek employment in higher education. I applied at Assumption University and landed a job teaching full-time in their Master of Supply Chain Management program. A week later one of the people with whom I had taught at Chon Buri called me and asked if I could teach in their program; so now I had two jobs. Then, someone in my condo suggested that I apply at the MBA program at Stamford International University, so I applied there. Three jobs is a bit much, but I did it for a year trying to decide which place I liked the best. Four years later I am still at Stamford.
B.O. Blast: Which courses are you teaching at your current university?
Scott Roach: I teach at Stamford International University in their MBA program. It truly is an international program. Last week the university president reported that we currently have students from 119 different countries across the world. The courses that I teach include business research, marketing, consumer behavior and integrated marketing communications.
B.O. Blast: How has life been in Thailand? What do you enjoy most about the change of scenery or pace of life?
Scott Roach: Life has not been exactly what I was expecting in Thailand. Is it ever? My wife Nuy now had the support that she needed to pursue her dream of law school. The best law school is in Bangkok and so that is where we needed to stay. I am a small-town boy. My house in Natchitoches was in the middle of the woods on Sibley Lake, in a place secluded enough that in the summer when there were leaves on the trees I could not see my neighbors. Now I live in a city of 12 million. However I did find a condo about five miles from downtown. I live on the 28th floor and have a breath-taking view of the skyline (imagine New York’s skyline) to the west and farmland and distant mountains to the south and east. One day I hope to move to a small village and enjoy a more sedate life.
B.O. Blast: How are you adjusting to the language?
Scott Roach: In the villages, no one speaks English. You also go back in time 70 or so years. For example, you use gas pumps where you pump your gas into the glass cylinder at the top and then turn the valve and let it gravity feed into your vehicle. Not speaking English is usually no problem. Through hand signals and pantomime you can usually get your meaning across. However, I have had to pick up a few Thai phrases because pantomiming that you need to go to the bathroom is not a good thing in mixed company.
B.O. Blast: Has any aspect of society taken some time to adjust to?
Scott Roach: Time is different here too. In Iraq if you were 10 minutes early, you were on time. If you were on time, you were late. If you were late, you need to pack up and go back to the States. In Thailand anything less than 30 to 45 minutes late is on time.
B.O. Blast: Coming from Natchitoches, you’re exposed to our year-round festivals and community events. How do the Thai people celebrate life?
Scott Roach: Songkran is a Thai festival that has a very sweet and significant beginning. Children and grandchildren, at this time of year take a bowl of water and “wash” the hands and feet of their parents, grandparents or village elders all the time wishing them good health, happiness, much success, etc. for the coming year. It is held at the old Thai New Year (about April). Yet Thais are interesting people. They notice that they still have a bowl of water left over after the ceremony so what could be better than to splash it into the face of the other youngsters involved? This, over time has evolved into a week-long or 10 days in some cities. Squirt gun, bucket and water hose wars break out all across the country. For a week you carry your wallet in a baggie. Everyone is fair game! Don’t wear anything that you don’t want wet. It makes going to and from work a bit of a challenge.
B.O. Blast: Do you ever have a craving for a Natchitoches meatpie or other Louisiana cuisine?
Scott Roach: I miss a lot of the food from time to time. I had a meatpie when I came home in September of last year to sell my house. Many things that I miss I have found recipes for and cook myself. Beta Omicron Chapter alumnus Mike Alain just sent me some new recipes that I can’t wait to try out, though I have a bit of trouble getting some ingredients at times. Going to a grocery store over here is interesting. I still cannot identify over half the items in the produce section. In the U.S. there is a space on a shelf a couple of feet long where rice is displayed. Over here an entire aisle is devoted to rice. There are 30+ kinds and rice comes in 10 lb to 100 lb bags. Rice is so important and linked to the Thai way of life that when they ask you if you have eaten, they actually ask you, “Have you had rice?”
Dr. Roach can be reached by Facebook or email. Please message alumni@pikappNSU.org to receive his current contact information.