He went ahead and applied to graduate school at State University of New York in Buffalo. Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he'd studied in college to be a social studies teacher, and now he planned to become a principal. Then, one day he got a call from a filmmaker who had lived with Powers's unit in Baghdad while making a documentary about them. The film was finished, and its maker invited Powers to attend screenings in more than 20 US cities and to speak to the audiences afterward.
Powers opted for the documentary – a decision that would prove to be transformational.
While on the tour, he talked with other veterans and found, to his surprise, common threads in their experiences.
"All this traveling around to talk about it helped me better understand my thoughts on the war.… I realized for the first time my story wasn't as personal as I thought it was," Powers recalls in an interview in New York. "I could be a voice for it."
The road trip included screenings on Capitol Hill. Powers and other soldiers on the film tour were surprised by questions from staffers for House members. The Beltway crowd seemed more interested in what the soldiers ate in Iraq than what light their war experiences could shed on US policy there. He says he came away disillusioned. After having "such a faith in Washington," he now felt policymakers were out of touch with what was happening in Iraq.
"Coming to terms with that took a long time," he says. "There was a long period of frustration [after] coming to D.C. and seeing how the discussion is."
A novice humanitarian