After writing letters and sending care packages to members of the United States military an ocean away, volunteers in the Adopt-a-Platoon community service program met a soldier and alumnus via Skype last Monday.
Tom Barron ’04, an executive officer in the U.S. military, spoke to students in the Adopt-a-Platoon program in a Skype conference about his experience at Andover and his deployment to Afghanistan. Barron also explained factors that influenced his decision to enter the military.
Adopt-a-Platoon is a community service program where students send letters to members of an army platoon of 40-50 soldiers that Andover has “adopted,” according to Monique Cueto-Potts, Community Service Director.
“Adopt-a-Platoon is the only program the [Community Service] Office runs where there is no direct, face-to-face involvement with a community partner, so I thought it was especially important for the students in this program to have a chance to speak with someone who may be just like a soldier to whom they are writing a letter or sending a care package,” Cueto-Potts wrote in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
After graduating from Andover in 2004, Barron took a year off before attending Harvard University as part of the Class of 2009. During his sophomore year, Barron decided to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), a program offering scholarships to college students in exchange for active military duty.
Barron’s decision to enter the military was driven mostly by his experiences growing up with a father who served in the Vietnam War and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Barron remembered looking up to his father and his friends who were veterans.
Barron served for 15 months as the platoon leader of a 36-soldier rifle platoon from the 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. He also conducted a six month tour in Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Barron is now the executive officer of his platoon.
“I had to go through quite a culture shock, actually, coming to Andover and seeing that everyone else didn’t understand the military in the way that I did. And that was one of the healthiest things for my understanding of military service that ever happened,” Barron said.
After hearing Seth Moulton ’97 speak about his experiences serving in the Iraq war at an All School Meeting during his Senior year, Barron’s interest in the military grew.
“I had been extremely outraged, and actually, I still am outraged by the Iraq War… [There] is still an enormous need for strong principled, thoughtful, compassionate leaders, particularly in an area that has so much moral hazard,” Barron said.
Barron believes strongly that it is important and useful for an Andover student to learn and care about the military and the policies that surround it.
“To me, the best thing you can do is read a lot, to understand how our political process works…Both those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] started while I was in high school, and I would argue that many of the failures that have happened throughout them have arisen from having a military that is divided from society,” Barron said.
Barron’s experience in the army opened him up to different experiences and gave him opportunities to mentor and teach younger soldiers as a platoon leader.
“The most profound things that you can do as a military officer are the combinations of leader, teacher, mentor, guidance counselor and boss to a lot of really young, really bright and some not-so bright, but really well-intentioned kids who rely on your mentorship,” Barron said.
Barron served as a team leader in a rural region of the Kandahar Province with little running water. “What kept me motivated, day in and day out, was my soldiers, and, in many respects, I felt really fortunate to be responsible for them because it keeps your mind off of boredom and fear,” Barron said.
“I find myself giving my soldiers financial advice, or advice about going to college, advice about buying homes, things that, honestly, I don’t know that much about,” Barron said.
Barron’s platoon had a lot of free time when not patrolling borders, he said. “In between patrolling, at least where I was, you had a lot of time to read books, magazines, newspapers occasionally or letters. We played a lot of cards, to be totally honest, and, with the ease of acquiring bootleg DVDs, we watched a lot of movies… But each experience is completely unique,” Barron said.
Although the speech was primarily for members of Adopt-A-Platoon, it was also open to the public. Barron spoke via Skype because he currently lives in North Carolina and was not able to reach campus.
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