Campus & Community

At ROTC commissioning, Faust touts idea of ‘soldier-scholar’

5 min read

Gen. Petraeus offers advice: ‘Stay humble’

Barron, Bilotti, Bras, Chiappini, Doohovskoy, Kristol, Pellegrini, West.

That’s roll call for eight 2009 Harvard graduates who were commissioned late Wednesday morning (June 3). Five are new officers in the U.S. Army and three in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The eight students filled out their final commissioning paperwork (and took their official oaths) in front of the John Harvard Statue.

Among a small crowd of well-wishers was Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who as an aviator won the Navy’s first Medal of Honor of the Korean War. (His father, Thomas Hudner, was in Harvard’s Class of 1915.)

By 11 a.m., Harvard’s newest military officers were on stage in front of the Memorial Church for a public commissioning ceremony — at which Hudner took a bow, and won a standing ovation from the crowd of about 4,000.

Lt. Col. Timothy Hall, a professor of military leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), praised the new officers for joining the military “fully knowing they will likely be in harm’s way.” (He directs MIT’s ROTC program to which Harvard cadets are attached.)

The new soldiers and Marines are part of a “long crimson line” at Harvard that stretches back to 1636, said Hall, and includes 10 Medal of Honor winners.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, re-administered the oath of office for what he said “must be the smartest new officers in our military.”

Harvard President Drew Faust set aside her prepared remarks to make an announcement: a new partnership with the federal government to help American military veterans get a Harvard education.

Starting this fall, she said, as many as 150 veterans will receive substantial financial aid at Harvard as part of the new federal Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program. The aid, good at every Harvard School, will be matched dollar for dollar by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is an opportunity for us to show our gratitude,” said Faust, “to the citizen soldiers who have given so much for our nation.” It’s an “investment,” she added, that will hopefully be “continued and even expanded” across Harvard in the years to come.

In his remarks, Petraeus imparted to the new lieutenants “five critical admonitions” necessary for leadership: Lead by example, stay humble, make timely decisions, build a team, and “don’t take yourself too seriously — but take your work seriously.”

In this day of multiple wars, he said, humility matters. New officers not only have to lead, they have to listen to combat-hardened veterans. “They have a lot to teach you,” said Petraeus.

Faust praised the general as the embodiment of an ideal she urged the new officers to follow: the soldier-scholar.

“He is a thinker,” she said, and offered a quote from Petraeus himself, who has a doctorate from Princeton University: “The most powerful tool any soldier carries is not his weapon but his mind.”

Faust, a historian, called war “arguably the most consequential activity any nation or society can undertake.” And so the soldier-scholar has the obligation, she said, to grasp the broad issues necessary to understand both opponents and ourselves.

A Harvard education has imparted the ability to “to think, to analyze, to make judgments — to turn information into understanding,” she said. “Your education has introduced you to the big picture — the sweep of history, of philosophy, of cultural difference and change. This is the context that necessarily shapes war and those who bear responsibility for it.”

To each new officer Faust gave a gift-wrapped book — a copy of “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations” (1977), by political philosopher Michael Walzer, then a professor of government at Harvard.

Petraeus acknowledged that “individual study and education are of enormous importance” — and that “when we had Harvard grads in Iraq, we tried to hang on to them.”

To that he added a caution for the young officers: “You’ll learn the most by getting your hands dirty and your boots dusty.”

The ceremony included remarks by Capt. Darnell M. Whitt II, U.S. Navy (retired), a member of the 1959 cadre of ROTC cadets at Harvard, which numbered 121 students. (Many of them, on campus for a 50th anniversary, took seats close to the front, wearing single red-ribboned medals in their lapels.)

Whitt paid homage to that class — one of whom, a combat surgeon, died in Vietnam — and to the generations of Harvard students in ages past whose names are carved in stone.

In a whimsical look another 50 years ahead (“The president of Harvard might be a man!” he said), Whitt hoped that the number in the ROTC cadre of 2059 “will be much greater than the few in your cohort, or the 121 of us.”

He closed with a sober reminder: “Let us never forget that the land of the free is because of the brave.”