SOM Veterans Mark Veterans Day
Six SOM students sat or stood in front of the audience in Steinbach Lounge on the morning of November 7. Four wore military uniforms — Navy dress blues and Army green — while the other two wore suits, their medals pinned to their breast pockets. On another day, the group would be dressed just like their peers sitting in the chairs, but the SOM Veterans Club was commemorating Veterans Day — a week early— so something more formal was in order.
The event was described as a way to hear about the military experiences of a handful of SOM students. The veterans explained their reasons for joining the armed services, what they learned, and ultimately what it means to wear the uniform for their country. “It was a very lucky decision for me,” said Yulee Newsome ’09, who served as a Navy lieutenant and taught ROTC at MIT before enrolling at SOM. “I don’t even know how the idea got in my head. I can’t imagine being anywhere else during that time in my life.”
The six — Newsome, Jennifer Kasker ’08, Andy Peng ’08, Chris Thomas ’09, Jesse Acosta ’09, and Jay Siembieda ’09 — each took different paths to the military. Newsome was studying singing in New York when he realized that there were a lot of great singers who could only earn a living by passing a cup on the subway. Kasker, now an Army major, attended a West Point football game in the sixth grade and decided she wanted to go to the U.S. Military Academy. Thomas, an Army first lieutenant and Bronze Star recipient, left his job as an investment banker at the outset of the Iraq War when his brother called to say he was joining the service. The best friend of Siembieda’s father is a Marine Corps lieutenant general; the Naval lieutenant calls him the most inspiring leader he’s ever known. Acosta, an Army captain and Purple Heart recipient, whose two grandfathers served, decided to enlist in the Army after high school, but the recruiter pushed him to apply to West Point. He got rejected the first time around, but got in on the second try. And Peng, a Naval lieutenant whose father was a general in the Taiwanese Marine Corps, became a U.S. citizen so he could attend the Naval Academy. “I got my naturalization certificate just 30 days before my induction ceremony,” he said.
The six officers spoke warmly about the men and women they lead. “They are amazing kids,” said Kasker. “They pick up Arabic on the fly and jump up on the vehicle in battle to fix the weapon.” Thomas added that the day-in, day-out effort of the enlisted soldiers never flagged. “It was humbling,” he said.
Most of the group saw significant combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Acosta was injured three times in combat and initially received two Purple Hearts: one after his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb and another during a firefight that lasted several days. The second Purple Heart was eventually rescinded because he continued fighting. He wore his medal pinned to his blue business suit. “In the military there’s a joke about the Purple Heart,” he said. “It’s the coolest medal to have but the one you don’t want to earn.”
For all of the students, Veterans Day was a time to express their gratitude for those who served before them, particularly those from the Vietnam conflict who, they said, were never given their due by the American public. But each member of the group had a unique way of thinking about the day. For Peng, it was about his connection with his comrades and his adopted country. “It means a lot to me as an immigrant to have the opportunity to go to the Naval Academy and serve as an officer in the Navy,” Peng said. “It reminds me of the generosity of this country.”