Morales: Return to service

COMBAT OUTPOST CASHE, Iraq

I am a Yale graduate deployed on a 15-month tour to Iraq, where I lead over 700 soldiers. I have spent three of the last five years in Iraq. Like many deployed units, my soldiers and I work to secure the populace, transition and train Iraqi Security Forces, build civil capacity and economic development, and work tirelessly in a dangerous, complex and tough environment.

As a leader, I must draw upon my ability to work with others, think and ultimately make decisions that are ethical, sound and appropriate to the totality of the situation. Every day I make choices, prioritize and lead in a way that is both informed and shaped by my collective experiences.

I was not part of a military family. I was born in El Paso, Texas. My father delivered milk and my mother worked at home. I have known my wife since kindergarten and together we move frequently, make fast friends and enjoy living in diverse communities worldwide. I bring to my profession the values, humility and work ethic of my family.

Similarly, I benefit from two very different yet enriching educational backgrounds: West Point, where I studied aerospace engineering, and Yale, where I earned an MBA from the School of Management. The experience was life-changing. I rowed crew, took several courses at the Law School and immersed myself in all that makes Yale special.

Not only did I acquire leadership insight and management skills that I use almost daily, but I was exposed to different ideas, I was encouraged to think more broadly and I gained a close cohort of lifelong friends who see the world from different perspectives. Yale gave me balance and has had a profound impact on how I learn, listen and lead.

Today, I not only plan and direct military operations and care for my soldiers and their families; I also work to improve conditions for the people of this war-torn country. I understand the potentially global implications of the actions of even the youngest soldier in my Task Force, and I frequently discuss with my forces the moral imperative to follow the Laws of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions, and to do the right thing even when the enemy chooses the opposite path.

My leaders and I set a command climate that limits force and seeks alternatives to disputes in a region that is quick to solve problems with a gun. Ironically, we all carry guns. I don’t pretend to be the Peace Corps, but my point is that the War Corps is not necessarily as blunt an instrument as perceived by some with limited interaction and understanding of the military that serves our society. The civil-military gap is growing.

Our nation needs and has historically had a professional and effective military, but at any point in time we only have the military we resource. As a Yalie in combat, I follow the discussions about ROTC at Yale online through the News, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I support the more inclusive option of allowing students access to military training at Yale.

Many oppose such a move because it signals an acceptance of policies they cannot condone. It may be the notion that armed conflict is immoral or inhumane. Alternatively, opposition could stem from the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or our country’s disproportionately large defense budget. Both, it should be noted, are policy decisions that are decided by elected civilian leaders in the White House and on Capitol Hill, not in the Pentagon.

Principled stands — like those against ROTC — are what I cherish about my Yale classmates, but I believe that because of those stands, and not in spite of them, it’s time to bring military officer development back to New Haven. The greater good is best served by exporting more of Yale to all walks of life, not just those where Yale fits neatly, like academia, nonprofits, business and government.

I am not suggesting Athens become Sparta. Yale is strong enough and will be made stronger by a return to campus of a program that was evicted at the height of the cultural and political crisis of the Vietnam war. Though some see parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, I do not. We are not a draft-dependent military, but rather a volunteer force that should, if they choose to serve, include sons and daughters of Yale.

Soldiers in my unit are graduates of Brown, Harvard, Berkeley and many other great schools that produce thinkers and problem solvers. Princeton has had a strong ROTC program that is close to 100 years old. Our military is a cross section of our society. That cross section should include more, not fewer, Ivy League graduates. The Army in which I serve is better for its diversity — not merely diversity of color, gender and skills, but also diversity of ideas.

On April 1, 1944, the Yale News Digest published an report titled “World War II: 14,491 Yale Graduates Now Serving. Casualties: 218.” Times have changed and so has Yale, but liberals, conservatives and independents remain dedicated to serving others, including the nation.

Years ago Yalies said, with full seriousness, “For God, for country and for Yale.” It’s time to bring that second sentiment back to the forefront of Yale’s consciousness.

Rich Morales is a 1999 graduate of the School of Management. He is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and the commander of the 1st battalion of the 35th armored regiment in Iraq.

Comments

  • richiniraq0809

    Please know that the views presented are only my thoughts and perspective on Iraq, the military, and Yale's role in service to the nation and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.

    Should you want to discuss or just say hello, richmorales@aya.yale.edu.

  • SOMer

    Rich, with all due respect, I would not want to see my kids fight a senseless oil war thousands of miles from my doorstep (or any war for that matter). I would not want to send my kids to Yale as a step to join the armed forces. I am not really sure the armed forces of any country need the great thinkers that you speak of… Let's instead bring the troops home - make love, not war!

  • Spoiled Liberal

    Like Rich wrote, enlistment in the military is optional - so SOMer, if your kids want to join the fight, it is their choice not yours. I wouldn't mind seeing more Yalies in the military because 1) we need good minds in all areas of government service and 2) we should not let political agendas restrict options for Yale students

  • @SOMer

    I'm with Spoiled Liberal. Did you read the article? Yale would not be a "step to join the armed forces;" the opportunity to do so would simply exist again. I think it's a great idea, and a great article.

  • Old Blue '73

    Five years after I graduated from Yale I joined a law firm that was populated by ex-military menk, some of whom had been ground soldiers in Vietnam. I spent many hours in anti-war activism, my new colleagues knew this and never expressed resentment toward me for it. One of my friends among them told me he felt that part of the blame for the My Lai atrocity was that the best and brightest of America's youth avoided service in Vietnam. His theory was that Callie was a substandard officer who the military had to put there because it didn't have enough good men. It was a gross oversimplification but the idea did stick with me a bit.

    Having ROTC on campus does not force anyone to join but would open Yale to men and women who have the desire to serve militarily and the smarts to get into and succeed at Yale. It would enhance Yale and the military in my view.

    Thanks for your article Rich and thanks to for your service.

  • Anonymous

    SOMer,

    While you sit comfortably at home with your nice framed degree from the Yale School of Management, sectors of society which you would have nothing to do with put their lives on the line to defend everything we cherish.

    How dare you critique a war and then say we don't need good minds to fight them? Haven't the last 8 years taught us that we can't have inexperienced Yalies sending our troops around the world without knowing at all what they are doing?

    Oh nevermind, I get it, we'll just make love and not war!

    Come on.

    Ben

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