Bronze Stars and Yellow Ribbons
Ten U.S. Marines and Army soldiers, all of whom served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan—some in both—are among this year’s entering class at Harvard Law School. Five are part of HLS’s Yellow Ribbon Program, through which the U.S. Veterans Administration matches the amount a law school offers to pay for a veteran’s tuition and expenses. HLS is one of very few schools making the maximum commitment—50 percent—which means, with the VA’s match, these veterans attend for free. Here are profiles of two of the 10 veterans: Joseph Kearns Goodwin ’13 and Kenneth Anthony Laretto LL.M. ’12.
Joseph Kearns Goodwin
Joseph Kearns Goodwin ’13 was just a few months out of Harvard College, living with his family in Concord, Mass., when the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001. The next day, Goodwin headed to the nearby military recruiting center in Billerica and joined the Army.
Goodwin was inspired to enlist because the country would need the service of its young people, and because he “realized [he’d] been afforded basically every advantage you can get from a free and prosperous society,” as he said on the “Charlie Rose” program in 2009, where he appeared with his mother, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
After basic training, including airborne training, Goodwin soon found himself in Baghdad, where he spent 13 months in charge of 31 soldiers as a combat platoon leader with the Army’s 1st Armored Division. He completed his military commitment after four and a half years and was happily ensconced in civilian life, working for NBC Universal in New York City and contemplating law school, when he was recalled by the Army and sent to Afghanistan in 2008.
While Goodwin had experienced the war in Iraq at the ground level, in Afghanistan he got invaluable perspective at the highest levels, serving as an adviser to the director of strategic communications for both the U.S. and NATO missions there. Although he never expected to spend six years of his life in the military, he doesn’t regret it.
“In all my experiences in the military, I got a lot more out than I put in,” says Goodwin, who was awarded the Bronze Star medal for exemplary performance in combat. The women and men he served with ranged in age from 18 to 40 and represented every race and socioeconomic background, he says. “Everybody exhibited a level of competence, compassion and dedication, not only to what they were doing but to each other, which is massively impressive,” he says. “It reaffirms your faith in people.”
His experience in Afghanistan cemented his decision to study law. Missing the deadline for applying to HLS, Goodwin spent his 1L year at Suffolk University Law School before transferring this year to Harvard. Having worked on several political campaigns, including as chief of staff for Steve Pagliuca’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2009 (where he met his wife, Victoria [Bonney] Goodwin), Goodwin is not ruling out a political career for himself.
“Having been places in the world where you see how much of a positive impact a caring and effective government could make,” he says, “it would be pretty rewarding to be part of that.”
Kenneth Anthony Laretto
Kenneth Anthony Laretto LL.M. ’12, who graduated with distinction from Stanford Law School in 2002, was just about to finish his clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit when he decided to seek a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I was just about to turn 28, and practically speaking, it was the last opportunity to join the military before I became too old,” he recalls. “So I decided to do it.”
An Army brat who grew up in northern Virginia while his father was stationed at the Pentagon, Laretto is a magna cum laude graduate of Brown University with a double major in history and musicology. After graduating from basic training in Quantico, Va.—where he learned the combat skills required of every Marine—he completed the Basic Lawyer Course at the Naval Justice School in Newport, R.I., and quickly found himself doing all the tasks of a general practice attorney, from wills to divorces and custody cases, for Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
A year later, he was headed to Al Qaim, Iraq, with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By the time his battalion arrived, most of the heavy combat was over, and their mission was focused more on achieving security and stability.
As the command battalion’s judge advocate, Laretto oversaw the detainee facility and ensured that its conditions complied with the Geneva Conventions as well as any military order that applied. He adjudicated cases in which locals were seeking damages under the Foreign Claims Act, and also served as the liaison with local judges, assisting in setting up a criminal court.
“You have to have a functioning court system, you have to have the rule of law integrated with the judiciary, and a lot of that is linking people together and setting ground rules,” says Laretto. “We can teach Iraqi police all the American law enforcement standards we want, but when it comes down to it, the Iraqi judges understand the nuances of the [civil] code and how the police need to operate within it.”
After seven months in Iraq, his battalion returned to the United States, and he prosecuted criminal cases for six months before being named deputy staff judge advocate for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, where he advised the commander on legal matters related to recruitment. When he was chosen for the Marines’ Advanced Degree Program, he chose HLS for an LL.M. because of its strength in national security and international law. He’s also getting a graduate degree in national security policy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and he is looking forward to a long career in national security policy and law, both in the Marines and in post-military federal government service.