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Last week, University President Drew G. Faust met with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to finalize an agreement to recognize the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Harvard. This marks the first time that all three ROTC programs—Army, Navy, and Air Force—have been represented on Harvard’s campus since the Vietnam War. We are proud to see the legacy of Harvard’s storied history of military service renewed.
There are few higher callings than service for one’s country, and the armed services deserve the utmost respect and gratitude from our community. But our praise must not solely come in the form of empty words, as they so often do. The best way for us to show thanks to our classmates in uniform is to support the ROTC program and to encourage it to grow and flourish. Officially recognizing the program is an important first step in this process: Harvard Air Force ROTC cadets can now know they attend a university that is unafraid to celebrate their service.
Those who serve have made a decision the rest of us chose to sidestep. They gave up comfort and safety for a higher calling—a belief in duty, honor, and country. The military is not perfect, but we need not rehash past arguments over Vietnam or debate the merits of The War on Terror to support President Faust’s most recent measure. While there are undeniably issues with the military—and those who enlist should not be presented with a white-washed, PTSD-free narrative of service—the blemishes of our past and present do not in any way diminish the depth of courage it takes to follow that call.
The reasons for the decision to recognize the Air Force ROTC today, however, should go beyond the valor of soldiers. Indeed, the military itself has taken a series of admirable steps in modernizing its policies. The decision to repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” and the upcoming end to the ban on transgender service, in particular, portend to the establishment of a more inclusive military—one in which all Americans can serve together. The military’s progress on these critical social issues should make us all still more proud to have such an institution on our campus.
Ensuring that ROTC students feel included on campus is not simply a matter of practicality, but one of diversity as well. At Harvard, conversations surrounding diversity usually take place in the context of racial and socioeconomic inequality. But as important as those conversations are, we must not lose sight of the value of maintaining different kinds of diversity—diversity of experience, perspective, and even future career paths. Including students who are interested in joining the military—an organization consisting of nearly one and a half million Americans—is a critical aspect of this mission.
We are all made better by their presence, not only in an intimate sense, as students whose horizons they broaden, but also in a larger sense, as citizens whose daily lives they safeguard. As we understand better their sacrifices, we should be moved to gratitude, and from gratitude to action. Expanding the official recognition of ROTC at Harvard is a step forward on this path. We thank our ROTC classmates for their service, and we thank President Faust for easing their path just a little bit.
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