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Stories of heroism, courage and honor resonated throughout the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Tuesday night as Harvard paid special tribute to some 100 Kennedy School and Harvard Business School military veterans from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The evening began with a Forum discussion, “Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines,” co-moderated by U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Frederick Wellman MC/MPA ’07 and David Gergen, director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, and concluded with a reception and dinner highlighted by a keynote address delivered by Lt. General Douglas E. Lute MPA ’93, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“At a time when the country is engaged in an increasingly divisive war, it is nonetheless true that in this war, very much unlike the Vietnam War, we are showing a better side about thanking people for service and we are continuing to salute our veterans in important ways, and that is one of the reasons we thought it was so important to be here tonight to join in that spirit of saying thank you for service,” Gergen told the standing-room-only audience during his introductory remarks.
Each of the Forum panelists reflected on their personal experiences in combat, and the leadership lessons they learned.
“As you’re coming up through the ranks and certainly being trained as a junior leader, you are continually reminded that leadership by example is one of the most powerful tools in your kit bag, and going out there and demonstrating how something is done and showing your soldiers what right looks like is amazingly powerful. You certainly learn it to the greatest degree under the most dire of circumstances,” said Joseph Ewers MBA ’07, who served as an Army infantry company commander in Iraq.
“You get to a place where you would do anything for the guy on your left or the gal on your right because you know they would do anything for you,” said Maura Sullivan MPA2 ’09, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq.
Oscar Hall, a Kennedy School National Security Fellow who served as an Army battalion commander in Iraq, commented on the importance of training in building an effective military force.
“We have transitioned from the days of one size fit all, where soldiers were trained only to do one specific thing, to training those soldiers to be proficient and lethal among a wide variety of skills. Those soldiers must have a variety of tools in their tool bag that they can reach upon to help them deal with a problem,” he said.
Daniel Wagner MPA ’02, who was injured in combat while serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq, said that the modern-day soldier must learn from his mistakes, learn to adapt to a variety of circumstances, and be bold. “The hardest thing I had to do was maintain the balance between reconstruction and stabilization focusing on the population, while taking such casualties in such a violent situation. That was hard.”
Wellman, who served as a public affairs officer with the U.S. Army in Iraq, recounted the positive responses he heard from civilians who welcomed American-led reconstruction efforts. “The number one request I received in every village was to build a school,” he said. “I carried soccer balls everywhere I went. You want to see smiles? Hand a soccer ball to a kid!”
Following the Forum discussion, the Center for Public Leadership hosted a reception and dinner for the veterans and their partners at the Charles Hotel.
Photos: Tom Fitzsimmons