Furiously shaking from the cold and reading an intelligence report detailing that he and his platoon would soon be completely overrun by a brigade of Iraqi tanks, Seth Moulton ’97 had no other choice but to sit in the mud and hope that he would see the sunrise the next morning.
“There are times when you say, ‘Why on Earth did I sign up for this? Why am I here?’ But at the end of the day… I didn’t want someone else to be here in my place,” said Moulton in his presentation on service and his experiences in war on Tuesday, April 22, in Kemper Auditorium.
Moulton, who is currently running for Congress in the sixth district of Massachusetts, has served four tours in Iraq. When Moulton was on his first tour, he supervised an Iraqi radio station, TV station and newspaper.
When the TV station that he supervised played American movies, the DVDs would be ejected before any content appeared that could upset conservative citizens. One night, the disk was not ejected before a lewd scene, and people took to the streets in protest. This mistake was still his responsibility, Moulton said, even though his base was nowhere near the transmitter.
“In the Marine Corps, you have a very simple job description: ‘You are responsible for everything that your platoon does or fails to do.’ That’s it. So just think about that. Imagine if your house counselor’s job description was, ‘You are responsible for everything your dorm does or fails to do.’ That’s a heavy responsibility,” he said in his presentation.
In order to lead his platoon, Moulton supervised the people under him while building trust. In the military, the only way a young soldier would risk his or her life would be if he or she trusts the leader. He argued that today, politicians do not always accomplish what needs to be done and excuse themselves for it, thus eroding trust.
“You don’t check on the guys at noon or three in the afternoon. You got to check on them at three or four in the morning because it proves that you are willing to be out there in the worst times, when they want to be sleeping, and you want to be sleeping,” he said.
One way Moulton fostered relationships with his compatriots was by using the different skills in which they were trained to their advantage. As a special assistant to General David Petraeus, Moulton worked with a female lieutenant named Ann Gildroy Fox. If they needed to gather intelligence from the mothers of a family, Fox would go. If they needed to enter a ring of Iraqi men, Moulton would go. It was never a competition between them. Rather, they always worked as a team.
Moulton’s training process for the Marines, however, was competitive and rigorous. Much of the training process was to become a better soldier. Similar to how at Andover, the goal is to become a better student.
“All of a sudden there’s this moment that I experienced when I got out of training, and I met my platoon for the first time, where the tables are turned completely. And all of a sudden it wasn’t about me at all. I graduated, I made it all the way through. I worked really hard to do that, but then I met 36 young, American men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 22, and I was responsible for keeping them alive,” Moulton said.
“Anything that I had worked hard to better in myself was just so that I could do a better job of being there for them,” he added.
Moulton was never interested in politics or government while he was at school, but after witnessing the results of bad decisions made by national leaders, Moulton now sees the changes that can be made in veterans care, health care, the district’s economy and foreign policy after returning from his tours.
He said that for him, success in life was the product of serving the country in the Marines and avoiding the common path of success that he could have taken after graduating from Harvard.
“I saw, every single day in Iraq, the impact that leaders could have… If you can have the courage to stand up and do what’s right, even if it is difficult or unpopular, you can have an impact, and you can make a difference. I did not agree with the Iraq War, and I didn’t agree with a lot of the policies in the Iraq War, but I had a tremendous impact on how it was executed because every single day I had to make decisions that impacted the lives of other people,” said Moulton in an interview with The Phillipian.
Moulton said that he has never regretted his decision.
“I just believe in service, and I actually enjoy service too. And that’s not something I knew when I went into the Marines. I really felt that it was the right thing to do, but it felt more like a chore. I would do my four years, and then I would go on to do different things, but I realized that I enjoyed serving others so much that it was actually a hard decision to leave the Marine corps, and it’s been why I’ve been anxious to get back and do a service job ever since,” Moulton said.