by Margie Kelley
Scott Smith was living in Ames Hall in early 2003 when he got a call that sent him to his room to pack his things and leave school immediately.
“I had 48 hours to report for duty,” said Smith, who was then a captain in the Marine Reserves. “I was packing all my stuff and people kept coming by my room, saying, ‘Where are you going?’ When I said I was mobilized, they were shocked. Most of them hadn’t known anyone in the military. I think it was a shock to them to see someone they knew being taken away.”
Smith gathered his things and then told the registrar’s office, the dean and his resident supervisor that he had orders to report for duty. “When you’re mobilized, they don’t give you any details,” he said. “It’s just pack your stuff and go. So I left, and that was it. The law school was really supportive about it.”
But Smith, who had been in the service before becoming a law student, was eager to serve his country. He had gone straight from high school at Phillips Exeter Academy to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduated in 1996 as a commissioned second lieutenant in the Marines. He served for five years on active duty, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was deployed twice, first to Central America and later to Okinawa, Japan.
“It’s not something you wish for,” he said. “Thankfully, no one’s ever shot at me in anger.”
After his second deployment, Smith returned to Camp Lejeune and took charge of marksmanship and sniper training on the base, until he finished his active duty commitment in July 2001.
Several private companies courted him for operations jobs, but Smith found them unappealing. Looking for a job, he said, “is different when you’re 28 as opposed to 22. I’d given my youth to something else—the military. I got offers, but it was just the Marine Corps again but with more people and they weren’t Marines.”
But law school appealed to Smith, whose father is an attorney.
“I figured I needed an advanced education if I wasn’t going to do the typical junior officer kind of job,” he said.
So Smith laid down his rifle, picked up his books and headed to HLS in September 2001. But just a few days into his first year, everything changed.
“September 11 happened,” said Smith. “I was pretty pissed off. It was one of those things where I felt that I was well-trained—it wasn’t like I was out [of the military] for that long. I struggled with what to do at first, but then after my first semester, I joined a reserve unit.”
Smith stayed at HLS and drilled with his unit one weekend each month. He completed his first year and was well into his second when the call came. He reported to Camp Lejeune in February 2003 and waited while the war in Iraq began. His unit was sent to Okinawa, the Marine base for operations throughout the Middle and Far East. He trained troops in heavy machine and antitank scouting maneuvers, but never got close to Iraq. He has no regrets about that.
“As a Marine, if something’s going on, you wish you were there,” he said. “But when it’s all said and done, it’s great to be alive. It’s not something you lament. It’s a tough war. I don’t envy the guys over there now.”
Smith returned from Japan last December and was back in Cambridge in the spring to complete his second year. He got married in July and has just accepted a job offer with the Boston law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.
In some ways, he said, the transition to civilian life has been a challenge.
“In the military, we had a respect for each other that I feel you just don’t see outside the military today. Politicians rip each other apart.
Smith knows his military experience has given him strong leadership skills and instilled in him a deep desire to serve his community.
“I’m someone who, if something needs to be done, I’m going to do it,” he said.
Smith teaches a ninth-grade religious education class at his church. At HLS, he works with the Prison Legal Assistance Program, serving as counsel for inmates who get into trouble while in prison.
“I think a lot of Harvard students would be intimidated by going to a maximum-security prison to represent somebody,” he said, “but for me, there’s not much I’m afraid of anymore.”
The military has left an indelible mark on Smith, who gives law school its due as a challenging experience, but one that he won’t complain about.
“The military gives you a perspective that can’t be matched,” he said. “It’s been a grounding part of my life. It was my privilege to serve as long as I have in the Marines.”