Campus & Community

Marine squad in Iraq wears crimson, thanks to HKS, Coop

3 min read

A contact drawn by a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) faculty member’s research has led to the filling of an unmet need for U.S. Marines in Iraq: Harvard-insignia gear.

Linda Bilmes, an expert on government budgeting and public finance and co-author of the 2008 book “The Trillion Dollar War,” was contacted in September by Cpl. Blake Lynch, posted near Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Lynch e-mailed Bilmes, a lecturer in public policy, to ask her about her research into the costs and economic ramifications of the war.

In response, Bilmes asked Lynch about the availability of basic necessities for the troops and what they might need. Lynch responded that, though they have learned to do without — they’re faithful to the slogan “Marines do more with less,” Lynch told Bilmes — they’d love some Harvard-insignia clothes to augment their government-issued wardrobe.

“During my research on the costs of the Iraq War, I discovered that despite spending $12 billion every month on contractors and combat, the military does not provide most troops in the field with basic items like soap and toothpaste,” Bilmes said. “Many service members rely on their families and friends to send them these items.”

Lynch sent Bilmes a short list of 10 items, and Bilmes and her assistant, Tammy Sopp, contacted the Harvard Coop, which agreed to donate the hooded sweatshirts, T-shirts, and shorts Lynch requested for himself and members of his squad.

“I applaud the Harvard Coop for its generous donation of clothing to our Marines,” Bilmes said. “This is a small way in which we in the Harvard community can show how much we appreciate the sacrifice of our troops stationed in Iraq.”

Lynch, reached via e-mail, said the heavier gear is needed this time of year because — despite searing heat in summer — it can get quite cold in Iraq. When he arrived in Baghdad last January, the city had just received its first snowfall in many years.

Lynch, of Oceanside, Calif., said the squad was excited to receive the gear last month and joked they wouldn’t have time to wash it because they were going to wear it to bed, train, and go to work.

Bilmes said the experience of Lynch and other soldiers in his squad reflects what she’s found more broadly in her research, which has highlighted the often-unseen costs of the war.

“The academic root of this effort is to understand the ‘social costs’ of the war. These are costs that are borne by the troops and families, but not paid by government,” Bilmes said. “For example, the families of veterans who are wounded must often give up their jobs in order to care for a returning loved one. It turns out that personal items are also a social cost: we send young people overseas for 12 months to fight for their country, but they still have to buy their own sheets and towels.”