First Person

Coming home

Kit Parker, 43, a US Army major and Harvard biomedical engineering professor, returns to campus after finishing his second tour in Afghanistan.

By Tracy Jan
August 23, 2009

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What did you want to be when you grew up? I played army with my friends. And I had a Sears chemistry set and a lab in the garage. I do the same stuff now, but with better gear and higher stakes.

What were you doing in Afghanistan? Part of my job was remodeling the Army. I worked for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. Doctrine cannot change as fast as some of the battlefield threats. This center formats lessons learned so other units can adopt the best practices and avoid these failures.

What is it like to straddle such different worlds?

Sitting in the airport after kissing my wife and child goodbye -- that was worse than anything I faced in combat. And then the transition back here -- one day you’re getting shot at and the next day you’re at a Starbucks listening to some guy yelling about his latte, and you look through the paper and see a guy you know listed among the casualties and you just want to scream.

How do you feel about Harvard’s ban on ROTC? The dirty work of maintaining a democracy is every American’s business. By not having ROTC, we are not making a statement that we are willing to earn our First Amendment rights that we as academics vigorously consume.

The hardest part of being in the Army? When you carry a gun for a living, it changes the way you see everything. You can’t walk through Harvard Square and not see it differently, because you train yourself to be constantly assessing threats.

What is your research at Harvard about? My lab was set up to understand how the heart builds itself. Then I got interested in traumatic brain injury the first time someone tried to kill me with an IED [Improvised Explosive Device].

Are you home for good? I’m not going to get out when things are tough. I said from the beginning, this is not going to be a war, this is going to be a lifestyle, and unfortunately I was correct.

  • August 23, 2009 cover
  • august 23 globe magazine cover
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