Reflections on Veterans Day: How military service helps in teaching at Duke Law
What’s it like for a vet to teach at one of the nation’s top law schools? A few weeks ago Bryan Roth of Working@Duke magazine asked me just that and invited me to participate in a piece about veterans who worked at Duke. That effort is now online (here) and is entitled: “Commemorating Veterans Day: Employee veterans reflect on how military service helps their work.” Of course, Bryan could only use part of what I gave him, so I thought that perhaps you would be interested in the full submission which is below.
Before I get to that – and just as a reminder – the University will hold its annual Veterans’ Day ceremony on Friday, November 11th at 11 a.m. on the Duke Chapel Quad. It’s been a very nice ceremony that I’ve been privileged to attend in recent years. Unfortunately, my experience has also been that apart from ROTC cadets, student support is dismal. This is especially sad since there are nearly 300 names listed on the Memorial Wall (next to the Chapel) of Duke grads who lost their lives during their military service.
I’m hoping that those students who do not want to honor veterans at least refrain from disturbing those who do. In the past I’ve seen some indifferent students walk by – or even through – the ceremony, loudly chatting as if there was nothing ongoing deserving a respectful silence for a few minutes. Let’s not forget why it is that we are able to live in the land of the free.
That said, the University – which annually receives roughly $58 million in various contracts and grants from the Department of Defense – has institutionally been supportive to those who served. For example, Duke is a “yellow-ribbon” school which helps vets deal with the financial burden of attending Duke. In addition, the University is one of a handful of schools which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on “veteran status” and which embraces veteran status in its faculty, Provosts and President’s statement on Excellence, Diversity and Inclusion.
I’ve been lucky enough to have taught at the Law School since 2010 after retiring from the Air Force after 34 years of service. My experience has been wonderful, and here’s what I originally submitted to Working@Duke (photo of students added, as is the picture of me in Somalia. BTW, the beautiful lady in the photo at the bottom is Mrs. Dunlap!):
One of the reasons I like teaching at Duke Law so much is that the students remind me of many of the people with whom I worked in the military. Like the vast majority of people in uniform, Duke Law students exhibit the same kind of energy, work ethic, and intellectual curiosity that I saw in young military lawyers.
In the military you discover pretty quickly that you can learn from everyone, regardless of their age or rank. I can well remember one of my small arms instructors, a young enlisted woman who was maybe 20, who looked me in the eyes and said with dead earnestness: “Remember general, even if they shoot you in the heart, you still have ten seconds before you bleed out, so keep firing back.” It was kind of amusing at the time, but there’s a life lesson there that I never forgot. And that’s just one of many examples.
In short, my military experience shows that you can always learn, especially if you treat people with respect, and that transfers to teaching at Duke. As in the military, I find that if you dialog with young people with the idea that you can learn as well as teach, not only will you get invaluable insights from these very bright students, but they will, in turn, be quite open to learning from someone they believe respects them.
The military is all about mentorship, and that transfers readily to teaching at Duke. A big part of mentorship is telling people what they need to hear versus what they may want to hear. I think that most Duke Law students really want that kind of feedback.
The military gave me the chance to travel the world and live a lot of places in the U.S. as well as Korea and England, in addition to deployments to Africa and the Middle East. This experience not only helps in relating to Duke’s very diverse student population, but also helps inform my teaching and put in context many of the things we see in the news today.
As a military member, you learn to work with people in situations of extremely high stress and where the stakes are literally life and death. While only a few will enter the military, I think that background helps me to prepare students to face the difficulties and challenges they will face in life regardless of their career path.
As you can tell from what I told Bryan, I’ve really been impressed with my students at Duke Law. In addition to all their other talents, they are very personable young men and women – the sort of people with whom others will want to work. I hasten to add that the Law School faculty has been far more welcoming to me – someone from so far outside the proverbial academy – than I had any right to expect.
People sometimes ask me about how they can show support to veterans. Of course, servicemembers voluntarily chose to serve and defend the freedoms of the children and adults in America. But when you fly the flag, when you say thanks to a veteran, when you visit a memorial and pause, and when you embrace the freedoms our country offers, you show support.
So, this Veterans Day, will you consider flying the flag? It is yours; it is ours. Send a card to a disabled vet, visit an elderly neighbor who fought for America; or post a positive message to veterans on social media.
To my fellow veterans, thank you for your service. To the spouses and children and parents of those who have served, thank you. And, to our active duty servicemembers, Guard and Reserve and their families, thank you. And, to all my colleagues, faculty and staff, and to the students who have so warmly included me in the Duke family after I transitioned from military service, thank you.