Each of these portraits tells a unique story of military service. The HBS students featured represent a small portion of the many veterans who live and learn in our community. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, spouses and parents, each of whom served voluntarily in their nation’s armed forces. Many served in combat. They are proud to share this deeply personal aspect of their lives with you.

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Dante Branch | Surface Warfare Officer School US Navy 

Virginia Beach, VA

Military service seemed almost inevitable for me; my parents had met in the Navy, my brothers had both enlisted following high school, and military service ran deep throughout both sides of my family. With my decision to go to college, I had broken with this tradition and I originally had no goal of joining. It was only during the spring of my freshman year when I began to wonder how I wanted to spend my life after college and if the service might be the right path. I wanted responsibility, adventure, excitement, and to have some purpose greater than just myself. It was these feelings, layered on top of the legacy of service within my family, that eventually led me toward examining a career as a Navy officer. I eventually made the choice to apply for Officer Candidate School have never regretted that decision.

Although I came from a military background, I truly didn’t know what to expect in the beginning. The US military is a vast entity and everyone’s journey is different. Right at the beginning, however, I got my first look at the tangible impact to people’s lives that made my experience truly unforgettable. It was only my second week as a Naval officer when I found myself conning the ship in the Arabian Sea rendering aid to a sinking fishing ship that had called out for help. Our ship provided food and water to fishermen who had been stranded for days and made sure that they could get back to their homes and families.

What I will remember most were the moments like that. Those moments where we were an active participant in changing lives and the associated feeling of making an effort to solve problems wherever we operated in the world. The feeling of partnering with the Bangladeshi military to help build and support a school for disabled children, bringing the assistance of top military doctors to rural villages in Cambodia, advocating for women’s rights in several emerging coun- tries, and many more such actions.

I am immeasurably proud of being a part in touching so many lives and will always look favorably on this past chapter of my life. I cannot possibly express how grateful I am of the myriad of experiences that I had and the bonds of friendship that I built during my 6 years of service. I would never trade those past years for anything in the world, I understand that it is time to turn the page and I look forward to the experiences and opportunities that will follow my time here at HBS.

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Baker Flagg | Greywolf Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division US Army

Frisco, TX

I joined the Army because I felt called to it. This calling came from the confluence of my love for military history and a family ethos of using God-given gifts and opportunities to serve others - to live what I had spent so much time only reading about.

Why, then, did I leave the Army? I left for the same reason I joined - I felt called. The Army helped me understand that I become most passionate and engaged when I have the opportu- nity to lead in challenging situations and make decisions that have a profound impact on people and organizations. These realizations constituted my “second calling” – to come to HBS in pursuit of the same opportunities for impact and service that had called me to the Army. The military does not have a monopoly on significance, impact, or service. I believe this drive to find something that resonates in a similar way as my military service is leading me towards a career in global humanitarian/crisis response operations. As my second calling becomes clearer, I am profoundly thankful for the experiences and, most importantly, the people that have helped shape my path during my time here at HBS.

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Todd Graham | 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne) US Army

Anchorage, AK

Everyone in the military has their reasons for joining, for me it was to follow the path of my dad—a 1980 West Point graduate, and both grandfathers—one who fought in WWII and the other in Vietnam.

What I love most about the Army is the soldiers you have the honor to lead. It’s truly amazing to watch them come together from as diverse backgrounds as they do and put their lives on the line half a world away for not only each other, but for another country and way of life. One of these soldiers I will remember forever, and I wear on my wrist every day:

Although Gabe gave his last breath for his country, he inspired new life in me—do whatever I can to prevent future Americans from having to give their life for our country. That is why I am returning to teach cadets at West Point after I leave HBS—to mentor the next generation of Army leaders. As General Douglas MacArthur said, “The Soldier, above all others, prays for peace.” Until that peace is achieved, I have an obligation to the next generation to teach them everything I have learned.
Specialist Gabriel D. Conde is my reminder to fulfill that obligation.

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Daniel Hall | 3-6 Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron US Army

Chattanooga, TN

I served because I believe, despite our deep and systemic flaws, in American exceptionalism. I served because of 9/11. I served because my grandfather did and I loved his stories as a child. I served because I wanted to go to West Point and that’s the deal. I served because we were liberating people from oppressive regimes. I served because we were protecting our country, our values, and our families and friends from terror. I served because I sought adventure. I served because of the blood my brothers and sisters-in-arms shed. I served because someone has to.

As a helicopter pilot I flew over the remotest regions in the world, places that, in theory, were so very different from my home. Yet looking down from my harbinger of death where I was required to play god, I saw the woman hanging her family’s clothes out to dry, just like my mother used to. I saw the young man tinkering under the hood of the family car, just like my father used to. I saw kids chasing a dog around their home, just like my sister and I used to. I saw old men with cigarettes resting in the shade, seeking respite from a blazing middle eastern sun. I saw the common humanity that unites us across our differences, and in those people, my reason for being there. “Reflection on service” feels like a strange phrase, because it might imply that the action is over. But it never will be for me.

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Ian Hossfeld | Special Reconnaissance Team ONE US Navy

Brewster, MA

I chose the SEAL teams because regardless of whether our nation is at war or not, you’ll be on the front lines making an impact.

I remember never being able to sleep the night before an operation. I would lie in bed going over the scheme of maneuver, running through radio calls, and memorizing headcounts. After a mission I would complete post mission products and then experience the sleep that is only possible after expending every ounce of adrenaline in your body.

I remember our Afghan partners driving into our compound and frantically repeating the name of their commander “Mujahed, Mujahed, Mujahed”. I didn’t see Mujahed in the vehicle, but I  did see the casualty they had transported to our base for treatment. As I pulled the patient from the vehicle his body rotated exposing Mujahed, burned the length of his body in perfect symmetry, from an IED strike with propane tank secondary explosions. The man who I had a meeting with two hours before passed within minutes at our aid station.

I remember two days before I was scheduled to deploy standing in the OB/GYN’s office trying to catch one final flicker of the baby’s heart beat before leaving on deployment for four months. Instead we saw no movement. I was able to shift my departure date by two weeks.

I remember standing on the runway with my wife and six-week-old daughter saying goodbye before my seven-month deployment to Iraq. The previous team had experienced multiple casualties including one FKIA. Holding my daughter, I couldn’t help but to think would someone else have to walk her down the aisle? I kissed them both goodbye and boarded the plane.

I remember hearing the call over the radio that we had armed individuals moving on target. My heartbeat spiked and my hands started to tremble slightly. I took a couple of deep breaths and started scanning for targets. Through the remote weapon system, I saw five individuals maneuvering amongst prepared fighting positions. I began firing my .50 cal machine gun and watching the alternating rounds of armor-piercing incendiary rounds explode on impact and tracer rounds arc in walking my rounds onto the target.

I remember cresting the hill and observing a pickup with armed men bearing down on our element. I quickly yelled “Going hot” to rest of my vehicle, flicking the safety off of the weapon system and rapidly engaging the pickup truck. With the truck still rolling forward, I saw the occupants jump out with looks of sheer terror on their faces.

I remember the first time pressing the cross-walk button near Continuum and being greeted by the near identical sound to the staccato of M2 machine gun fire. The rest of the day was a wash as I was lost in thought, back in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Zack Hoyt | Staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, The Pentagon US Navy

Nashville, TN

People say “Join the Navy, see the world.” The joke is that they don’t tell you until you sign your contract that the world is 70% covered in water! Having grown up in a family with many veterans and yet in a fairly homogenous and quiet New Jersey town, I felt the call of adventure that the Navy promised to provide. I wanted to create stories that I could pass down to my own kids and grandkids. I joined because the deal seemed just too good to be true: service to the nation that has given me so much, free college, a guaranteed job upon graduation, an immediate leadership role, an opportunity to travel across the globe, and the prospect of working side-by-side with people from all walks of life. Choosing to serve as an Officer in the United States Navy was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I am the man I am today because of my experience in the Navy. Much of what I thought I understood about the world has been challenged by the things I have experienced and the people I have met. My perspective was shaped by glaring contradictions. People just didn’t fit the neat patterns I mapped out in my young mind. My most intelligent sailor never got a college degree. The most natural leader in my division honed his ability to inspire coming up in an inner-city Chicago gang, escaping its grasp only by joining the Navy. The happiest people I have ever known, the Marshallese, have almost no material wealth and live on an island atoll in the middle of the Pacific. My friends took their own lives and I never understood why. The only thing I can say for certain about the world after six years in the Navy and 26 countries visited is that it is good, and it is evil, and I want to see more of it.

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Erin Kaivan | 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) US Army

Swoope, Virginia

First and foremost is legacy. Each generation, my family has served in some branch of the military going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Some of my most vivid memories as a child are listening to my Dad tell stories from his 36 years in the Air Force and of my Grandfather’s experiences as a Marine in the Pacific during WWII. So on September 11th, even as a 7th grader, I knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps and serve our country.

When I look back on my seven years of service in the Army, more than any one specific memory, I have an overwhelming sense of pride in the women and men I served with. The Army reflects a true cross-section of America, and it joins incredibly diverse people together through an unrelenting sense of purpose, mission, and love for each other. As much as I’ve enjoyed the HBS experience, I truly miss the calling of serving something higher than myself, and the bonds forged under training and combat. When I graduate, I will continue to look for opportunities to impact my community and keep trying to make the world a better place for my daughter.

I will be forever grateful for all of the people and experiences from my time in the Army who helped shape the leader I was ultimately able to become.

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Jeremy Kubach | President’s Emergency Operations Center US Navy

Clay, Kentucky

As a child, I always had a deep passion and appreciation for the opportunities that are afforded to citizens of the United States. I wanted to be able to serve alongside other Americans from different walks of life and give some of myself back to the nation. Service to society can take many forms, and military service was merely a start for me.

Serving on a U.S. attack submarine will forever be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was given the opportunity to serve alongside some of the most dedicated and intelligent citizens who chose to serve in the military. My naval career took me throughout the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, and 6 different NATO nations. The lessons that I learned from combining the technical, maritime, and leadership skills required to successfully conduct submarine operations impacted me in many profound ways. I often reflect on some of these experiences and find myself still learning from many of them.

Those experiences also led me to my final role as a team leader for the President’s Emergency Operations Center in the White House. It was truly humbling to have been entrusted with presidential and vice presidential emergency plans. This job was incredibly challenging and came with high demands, but the perspective that I gained is probably the most valuable profession- al experience that I’ve had to date.

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Bryan Lee | 25th Combat Aviation Brigade US Army

San Francisco, CA

“You don’t use good metal to make nails, and you don’t use good men to make soldiers.”

As the son of Cantonese immigrants, this Chinese proverb illustrates the cultural undertones associated with a career in the military. Growing up in a staunchly liberal bastion on the west coast only further reinforced these dynamics. However, witnessing the terrorist attacks on 9/11 sparked a conviction in me to serve in uniform. To this day, I can’t say for sure whether the decision I made as an 18-year old was based on a sense of patriotism, contrarianism, or adventure. Regard- less, that choice has indelibly shaped my worldview, my values, and my identity, and I continue to be exceedingly proud, grateful, and humbled to have had the opportunity to serve my country.

Flying through the dark Afghanistan night to rescue two downed pilots.
Delivering vital medical supplies to Ebola treatment facilities in the jungles of West Africa. Leading a unit of over 100 soldiers on a successful overseas deployment.
Bearing the solemn responsibility of informing four military spouses that their loved one would not be coming home.

These are memories of my time in service that will stay with me for the rest of my life. They encompass moments of fear, triumph, learning, and loss, and at the heart of each experience exists the common threads that have come to define my conception of Service:

  • An emphasis on People as foundational to every endeavor
  • A responsibility to leverage my talents, skills, and opportunities to benefit others A calling to contribute to a cause greater than myself
  • My decision to leave active duty service and pursue a path in the civilian world has resulted in similar moments of fear, triumph, and learning. Through it all, what I miss most about my time in the army is the inherent sense of purpose that formed the backdrop of every aspect of my military career.
However, what my HBS journey has shown me thus far is that the military doesn’t hold a monopoly on service. In fact, service as a value should be something that pervades across all industries and functions. I’ve come to realize that proliferating a sense of responsibility for public service among private individuals is how business as an establishment can have its greatest impact. And for us at HBS, developing ourselves into service-minded business leaders is per- haps how we best live up to this institution’s mission.

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Brian Mongeau | 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) US Army

Madison, WI

I was in eighth grade when four planes took off from my hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, on September 11, 2001. Watching my mother cry that night in the living room, talking about the all the parents that would never see their children again, was a formative image that seared itself into my mind. After graduating college in 2010 during the height of the “surge” in Afghanistan, I de- cided it was time to stop just studying history and to go try to be part of it by serving my country in its time of need.

When deployed, none of those reasons really matter. Patriotism, high-minded intentions, geopolitics – it all goes out the window. There was something much more important: my team- mates. My brothers.

This isn’t to say that high-level ideals and inputs into strategy are not important. It is to say that when war becomes your life and your daily reality, it’s your teammates that matter more than anything in the world. They got me home to my wife and family and I hope that I played even a little part in doing the same for them. Serving as part of our team was the greatest honor of my life.

I believe in the American experiment and want to continue to serve, whether in business or the public realm, to help make our country and world a little bit of a better place. But the core reason isn’t patriotism or idealism. It is my Green Beret brothers. I owe it to them.
De Oppresso Liber.

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Nicholas Qiu | 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery US Army

Woodbury, Minnesota

Growing up in Hawaii as the son of two Chinese immigrants, I remember two things distinctly. Spam Musubi and my rat tail (which most local kids had). We ate with chopsticks. Everybody looked like me and I felt like I belonged. It was wonderful!
And then we moved to Minnesota. It was cold. Everybody did NOT look like me. Kids made fun of me for my rat tail (which I had my mom cut off). And it was the first time I felt different. Like an outsider.

Things got better in high school. I learned to call soda, “pop”, and joined the wrestling team but I still didn’t feel like part of something. I had a few teachers in high school who had served and I remember listening raptly to their stories of camaraderie and shared experiences. It seemed like exactly what I was looking for.
Once in the Army, I found that it really didn’t matter where you were from or what you looked like. The things that mattered were that you chose to serve and you shared the same hardships and experiences as everyone else. I belonged in the Army because of the American flag on my right shoulder and the shared sacrifice it represented.

“Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part… and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.”
-Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers.

Sitting in the comfort of Spangler makes my time in the Army seem so distant… The rain less wet. The body odor of Soldiers in the field less pungent. The forced marches in the night less tiring. The stress of leadership less severe.

What strikes me the most now is an immense sense of the gratitude to the people that helped shape me. The Soldiers from all over the country who taught an overly eager 22-year-old Lieutenant to lead without being a jerk. The Sergeants that showed me what caring for people truly meant. The leaders who were quick to tell me I was jacked up but also fast to help me fix it. There is nothing better than living, working, and serving alongside people joined together by shared hardship and a common goal. I will always be grateful to these brothers and sisters.

If there is one thing I would share with my HBS classmates, it would be an understanding of the American Soldier. They disproportionately hail from the southern states. They just graduated high school and never thought much about college. Half sign up out of patriotism but just as many enlist for free college. For risking their lives, they are paid $2000 a month. It is hard to be motivated when so much is asked of you but you receive so little. Yet they are always ready. When push comes to shove, you can count on the American Soldier.

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Jessica Stephenson | Task Force Tigershark (1-10 ATK), 10th Mountain Division US Army

Ashland, Delaware

My father is a West Point Graduate and a retired Army Experimental Test Pilot, so I grew up on military bases moving from one side of the US to the other. I loved the idea of helping others and doing something bigger than I could imagine in service to my country.

I never thought I would see combat. Growing up, I imagined the Cold War would continue with another country, but September 11th changed everything.
The day after my 18th birthday I reported to The United States Military Academy at West Point. I loved being challenged and part of a team. Eventually, my friends and teammates started deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. Not long after, my friends were listed among the Wounded and Killed in Action.

I always knew I wanted to fly and chose the Apache Attack Helicopter, so I was an active participant in the Global War on Terror. My mission was to protect my military family with my life.

I did my best every day to bring all the good guys home, keep the civilians safe, and stop the terrorists and criminal organizations from hurting anyone. I was successful for a short time.

In June of 2013, I was in Eastern Afghanistan when my Attack Weapons Team was launched to save an ambushed American Infantry Platoon. We were fast, but not fast enough. When my helicopter arrived, two American Soldiers were already dead. I vowed this would be the last time, but it wasn’t. I left Afghanistan with a heavy heart and an undiagnosed injury.

Five years later, I found myself driving through the night to attend a memorial race for one of the Americans who was Killed in Action on my mission. I met his parents. They know I tried; they know we all tried.

Ultimately, I was medically retired due to the injury I sustained in Afghanistan. I never thought I would leave the Army. I loved my Soldiers and my mission. I served with amazing men and women and am better because of them. I learned more from my Soldiers about life than I could have imagined. My time in the Army taught me to laugh loudly, love deeply, and give generously. Life is beautiful.

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Devin Wenzel | Office of Special Projects US Navy

Lawrence, KS

I grew up in Kansas and, as a first-generation college student, I had few options for leaving the state. The Navy graciously welcomed me, giving me an opportunity to carve a new path for myself and offering me the chance to serve a greater purpose.

When I think about the life I want to lead, I think about a life of service. When I think about service, I think about my time in the military. My Navy career was a blessing, an opportunity that helped me achieve my dream—a life beyond my humble, Kansas upbringing—and allowed me to serve with sailors who made me a stronger, better person. My sailors and I faced challenging missions comprised of sleepless nights and difficult decisions. We celebrated our happiest moments and shared our toughest hardships, usually thousands of miles away from home. We supported each other, forging lifetime bonds. Our camaraderie elevated all of us to achieve beyond that of our individual abilities. While I know no experience in my life will replicate the bond that we shared while deployed, I look forward to my next chapter of serving.

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Christopher Wyatt | Naval Submarine Training Center – Pacific US Navy

San Diego, CA

I joined the Navy with a passion to serve my country, but I also joined the Navy with the hope of building a foundation for my own future. Having left high school as a junior to enter the workforce it took me three years of working odd jobs to realize I needed a career and stability if I was ever to reach my full potential. I decided to start that journey by enlisting in the Navy because the men and women in the Navy are tasked with taking ships to sea, over a horizon that I had never been, to places I always wanted to know.

My experience in military service is much akin to a baseball game, long stretches of otherwise unassuming events punctuated by periods of intense stress and commotion. Each submarine has a nuclear power plant, proving power for the life of ship, never needing refueling, never needing to come up for air. It is said that submarines are limited only by the will of the crew  and the supply of food. Underwater, routines are a necessity as hours turn to days, days to weeks, and weeks turn to months.

Operating a nuclear power plant underwater is much more watching than doing, watching the sensors, watching the gauges, watching the levels of tanks and the speed of pumps and motors. You’re always watching, right up until the point that you’re tasked with doing:

I didn’t know why I was jostled awake in a panic, but it soon became clear as the alarms sounded, and the lights flashed.

“Fire, Fire in the engine room, all hand rig the ship for a fire and a general emergency.”

It is quite a sight to see 130 people, each with a unique purpose and set of responsibilities scrambling about in a tube just 33ft wide and less than 300ft in usable length, knowing that there is limited time before smoke fills that tube and your ability to see, and speak, and breathe is a thing of the past.

“Hose team 1 man the hose, advance on the fire.”

You help dress your friend with a mask, a fire suit, and a hose, he does the same for you and you move quickly into the compartment, hoping this isn’t the ‘big one’ you have been training for and dreading all these years.

“The fire is out, the fire is out, breathing protection is no longer required.”

Someone quick to act turned off the pump and extinguished the fire, this was not the one you had been dreading, you laugh it off, stow the fire gear, climb back into bed and get ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Submarines are more than a myriad of systems and people underwater, they are an environment isolated and alone where you only sleep soundly knowing that while you’re not watching, someone else is, ready to take action and save the ship, because that ship is your home, and that crew is your family.