Duty, Duress for Graduates in Uniform

For Naval 1st Lt. John M. Harrington ’03, stationed aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Ross in the Middle East, even routine procedures can be life-threatening.

During the Ross’s transit through the Suez Canal, he writes in an e-mail, “the threat of RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] attacks or sniper fire is all too imminent... The canal is at points so narrow that standing on one of the banks, Johnny Damon could toss a baseball right through the Pilot house and out the other side. As well guarded as the canal is, it is still one of the most hair-raising events of the deployment because of the ever-looming possibilities.”

For nearly three years, the war on terror has raged in the Middle East. Tens of thousands of troops have been deployed to the countries of Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq. Among them are officers like Harrington, who left Harvard’s halls for a world ravaged by hostility and blood.

These Harvard graduates endure the realities of war. They see the injuries and casualties that become the statistics of the nightly news—and have even become casualties themselves.

But these alums say they are proud to be heeding the words atop the gate to Harvard Yard: “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”



During the fight for Baghdad, Marine Lt. Seth W. Moulton ’01 watched a soldier under his command come under artillery fire.

“They didn’t think he’d make it, but he did,” Moulton says. “You have a wedding party and people shoot off AK-47s in celebration,” he says noting the ever-present violence and hysteria.

The ugliness is multiplied by the inevitable dangers of war.

“In Kuwait, I spent a few minutes every day scrambling into my chemical suit whenever Iraq sent a missile in our direction,” says 1st Lt. Bridget A. Sinnott ’01, part of the 642nd Engineer Company (Combat Support Equipment). “And in Balad, we got mortar attacks every night for a week before we left.”

Jim J. Meeks ’01-’02, an Army 2nd Lt., was severely injured in Fallujah last May.

“Every day I rolled out of my base camp, I knew I potentially could be killed,” Meeks says. “I had run that route 12 times, and five out of the 12 an IED [improvised explosive device] had hit some part of the convoy, so I pretty much thought it would be inevitable.”

Harvard grads in the field reported working all hours, sleeping little.

“Being in Iraq is a miserable experience as far as the day-to-day living conditions of American servicemen and women,” Moulton says. “It’s hot as hell.”

He spent many of his nights on dirt floors. Sinnott says she only got to shower a few times—and in “make-shift showers” at that.