Soldiers Discuss Military Service

Vilsa E. Curto

Student veterans discuss their experiences at a panel organized by Military Appreciation and Support at Harvard (MASH), titled “Through the Eyes of Soldiers,” in Emerson 105 last night.

A contingent of Harvard student veterans shared their military experiences with an intimate crowd at Emerson Hall last night, urging students and civilian leaders to better familiarize themselves with the inner workings of the armed forces.

The panel, “Through the Eyes of Soldiers,” was sponsored by Military Appreciation and Support at Harvard (MASH), which says it is nonpartisan. Although the club was formed last semester under the auspices of the Harvard Republican Club—drawing financial and administrative support from the group, according to MASH co-director Andrea M. Nosal ’08—it hopes to apply for independent student-group status next semester.

“We want to get this campus to engage in a dialogue, no matter personal beliefs on actual politics. Separate the military from the controversy,” Nosal said.

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps member and panelist Peter H. Brooks ’06 said that for him the event was about fostering a greater understanding of the military for both Harvard students and the wider community.

“There is a huge civil-military divide,” he said. “Especially here at Harvard, as future leaders of our country, it would seem as though they should have some sort of familiarity with the military.”

Panelist John H. Silva, a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, agreed, stating that there is “an enormous disconnect between the military and the elite in this country—just look at Congress.”

The panel represented diverse military experiences, with former or current members of the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Navy represented, as well as the Norwegian and Finnish militaries.

The group fielded questions ranging from the advantages and disadvantages of compulsory service to the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bars gay and lesbian citizens from serving openly.

“I think it’s sad that such a policy is preventing the recruitment of so many smart people,” said former Norwegian special forces officer Magnus Grimeland ’07. “[Homosexuality in the military] is not a problem in Norway.”

Panelists also spoke about the nature of the U.S. military and the perceived difficulty in disentangling the military from politics.

“At the ground level, it doesn’t matter,” said Harvard Extension School student Randall Edmonston. “You have to throw out your own personal beliefs—separate your politics from your mission.”

Many of the panelists said officers should stay above the political fray.

“I believe the military should be an apolitical institution,” Brooks said. “We’re serving the American Constitution, not any given president or administration.”