A military life for some Yalies

U.S. Navy Lt. Nathaniel Fogg ’97 found himself in the middle of the war on terrorism before it even had a name.

Four days after Fogg disembarked from the USS Cole in October 2000, terrorists rammed a dingy into the side of the ship, killing 17 of his fellow crew. This past summer Fogg was serving in the Arabian Sea to capture terrorists, some from the same group suspected of attacking his ship two years ago.

Before his first posting in the Middle East, Fogg’s friends from Yale saw the decision to join the military as a waste of an expensive education. Since the events that sent him back to the region, Fogg and other Yalies headed for the armed services have said that this attitude has begun to change.

Fogg said he has often been met with disbelief when people from the Navy find out he went to Yale, or when people who know he went to Yale find out he joined the Navy.

“I’ve found that depressing,” Fogg said. “Friends I graduated with initially expressed doubt and incredulity over my decision to enter the armed services, as opposed to slaving away in a ‘bullpen’ as an analyst in New York City.”

But recently, Fogg said, he has sensed an increased interest from the next generation of Ivy graduates.

“I’ve been getting calls these last three weeks since I’ve been back, from Harvard and Yale [students] alike that are younger than me and are interested in going into the service,” Fogg said. “I find that really comforting. We need good smart leaders in the corps.”

Benjamin Klay ’03, who completed Officer Candidates School and has decided to join the Marines after graduation, said he felt Yalies’ opinions of military service shifted after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Before Sept. 11, many people would practically laugh in my face,” Klay wrote in an e-mail. “Many people seemed to think that Yalies are too good for the Marine Corps.”

Some of his friends tried to convince him not to join, others just called him crazy.

But some were supportive, and after Sept. 11, Klay said, the majority of reactions shifted from incredulity to respect.

“Sept. 11 really helped squelch the negativity, so that now it’s almost completely gone,” Klay said.

Ewan MacDougall ’03, who also plans to enlist in the Marines after graduating, agreed that opinions at Yale changed after Sept. 11.

MacDougall said at the time of his decision, which he made during the fall of his sophomore year, “most people thought it was the stupidest thing in the world for me to join the Marines.”

“My parents considered taking me out of Yale because they couldn’t justify blowing $36,000 a year,” MacDougall said. “Military service was for lower life forms.”

Most Yalies shared this opinion, MacDougall said.

After Sept. 11, however, people at Yale started berating him less and questioning him more.

“Responses were pretty much divided between those who thought the Marines were monsters, and those who respected my decision, but wouldn’t do it themselves,” MacDougall said.

MacDougall said he believes it is essential to bring the intellectual elite and the military elite into accordance. In an irony not lost on him, MacDougall said his Yale education was the primary impetus for his decision to join the armed forces.

“I decided to join the Marine Corps [as] a logical extension of my studies freshman year in [Directed Studies],” MacDougall said, adding that the program gave him an appreciation of the ideals the United States represents.

“Americans enjoy an incredible number of rights and privileges by virtue of [its] system, but those rights have an attendant responsibility — they require protection,” MacDougall said.

But, in the end, even the most stalwart beliefs about the value of military service can bow to more conventional Yalie considerations.

Fogg decided that after completing his four-year commitment to the Navy last August, he will enroll at the Harvard Business School next fall. When he finishes his education, he plans to enter the business world.

Fogg said his decision to leave the armed forces was based primarily on the Navy’s unwillingness to pay for his further schooling.

“If the Navy wants to retain [its] young officer corps, and not lose people at this stage — i.e. at the end of their first commitment — they’re going to have to be more flexible,” Fogg said.

Ewan MacDougall ’03, far right, plans to join the Marines after graduation. MacDougall and other Yalies choosing military paths feel that the Sept. 11 attacks dissolved a negative attitude on campus toward military careers.
Courtesy Webmaster,OfficerCandidatesSchool
Ewan MacDougall ’03, far right, plans to join the Marines after graduation. MacDougall and other Yalies choosing military paths feel that the Sept. 11 attacks dissolved a negative attitude on campus toward military careers.

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