Contributor: Joseph Goodwin ’13
Joseph Goodwin ’13 is executive director of National Security Now. After 9/11, he joined the military and served 14 months in Baghdad, Iraq as a combat arms platoon leader. He completed his military commitment after four and a half years and was working for NBC Universal in New York City, when he was recalled by the Army in 2008 and sent to Afghanistan, where he served for a year as a strategic advisor, Office of the Director Strategic Communications.
When I graduated from Harvard College in the spring of 2001, I had a clear, safe, career path mapped out for myself. A few years of work in a consultancy in Washington, followed by my lifelong dream to attend law school. I was due to start work in October, but 9/11 changed my life, as it did for so many others. I remember being in a gym that morning. The usual spirited chatter was replaced by shocked silence as the images of the falling towers cast a pale glow over the faces of those on treadmills and stationary bikes that were unnaturally still.
I decided, then and there, to enlist in the United States Army. It wasn’t a sense of retaliation or anger that drove my decision, but instead an understanding that soon, young people were going to be needed somewhere to do something. And as the happy beneficiary of almost every advantage that a free and prosperous society could provide – growing up in a close-knit community with a great public school education, access to a remarkable university like Harvard, and a family committed to the ideals of public service, it just seemed that it was only fair that I spend a few years giving back to the great country that had given me so much.
But what might have begun as a selfless pursuit quickly morphed into a selfish one. For over the course of my 6 years in the army, including extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, I was privileged to work with a group of men and women whose courage, commitment and dedication to duty, honor and country was without question. And these men and women represented a true cross-section of America. Within our ranks were every race, class, socioeconomic background and ideology. And yet, despite these differences we were molded to work together as a team, to abandon ego and entitlements and come together in order to accomplish a shared mission.
When I returned from my second tour in Afghanistan in 2009 I went to law school. I don’t think it is overstating it to say that this decision was greatly responsible for my ability to stave off the effects of post-traumatic stress. As much as the after effects of bombs and bullets, I am convinced that the problems faced by so many of our veterans upon returning home, is linked to the loss of that diverse, yet cohesive community that is found in the military (and indeed in other service organizations). That loss leads to the sense of isolation and despair that so often accompanies the psychological effects of PTSD. For me, the ability to throw myself into an exciting pursuit, the study of law, with an equally diverse student body – to share the trials and tribulations of 1L and beyond, to have that shared experience akin to basic training – allowed me to land softly from my time overseas and reminded me that I was not alone as I faced new battles.