Veterans at Penn

Jesse Hamilton, Jason Hartwig, and Greg Luttman are incorporating their military experience and varied perspectives into their research and work.

Jesse Hamilton, Jason Hartwig, and Greg Lutmann.
Jesse Hamilton (left), Jason Hartwig (center) and Gregg Luttman pose in front of the War Memorial Flagpole sculpture near Franklin Field, which was dedicated in 1951 honoring those at Penn who “died in the service of our country.”

In honor of Veterans Day, Penn Today is highlighting three students who served their country and are now bringing their particular expertise to Penn. Jesse Hamilton, a Ph.D. student in philosophy, Jason Hartwig, a Ph.D. candidate in political science and Greg Luttman, a master of science candidate in Organizational Dynamics are incorporating their military experience into their research and work.

“Penn is a great institution for veterans. Penn embraces diversity, and veterans have diverse life experiences,” Hamilton says.

In the following profiles, the three discuss everything from their military backgrounds, to how they discovered their area of study, and to how to best bridge the civilian/military divide in the U.S.

Jesse Hamilton, Ph.D. student in philosophy

Jesse Hamilton
Jesse Hamilton says his military experience benefits his study of philosophy in a number of ways.

Jesse Hamilton comes from a long line of soldiers, starting with his fourth great grandfather, an officer who wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge during the American Revolution.

“Members of my family have served in the U.S. Army during almost every major war—the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and the Korean War,” says Hamilton, a Ph.D. student in philosophy.

Continuing this tradition, Hamilton enlisted in the U.S. Army as an 18-year-old and spent four years in the 101st Airborne Division. He was slated to get out in early 2002, but after 9/11 his sense of patriotism led him to continue his service in the Army Reserves. There, he was a drill sergeant training troops for combat as he completed his undergraduate business degree at La Salle University. After his drill sergeant mentor was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, he volunteered to take the soldier’s place on a team advising the newly formed Iraqi army.

Jesse Hamilton in a military jumpsuit in front of a body of water in Bahria.
Jesse Hamilton at a lake near Camp Baharia, near Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006. (Image: Courtesy of Jesse Hamilton)

“After about six months, I felt like I was losing grip on my humanity,” he says. It was then that he came home on leave and went to the local bookstore, finding himself in the philosophy section.

“I picked up a book called ‘Practical Ethics’ by the philosopher Peter Singer,” he says. “I didn’t know much about philosophy at the time, but I knew I had to re-orient my moral compass. Reading that book sparked what turned out to be a lifelong interest in philosophy.”

By the time Hamilton left Iraq, he says he vehemently opposed the war. He came home after nine years of service, finished up his business degree and went to work in finance, with philosophy always in the back of his mind. In 2017, he embarked on the Master of Liberal Arts program, taking philosophy classes, and decided to apply to the philosophy Ph.D. program. He says the people in Penn’s philosophy department have embraced him as one of their own, despite his much different background.

“I have found that professors and students at Penn are welcoming, willing to ask questions about military service, and are generally grateful when veterans share their experiences,” he says.

Hamilton’s military experience benefits his study of philosophy in a number of ways, including that war itself is a topic of philosophical interest, he says. But he says the main benefit has been how his military service connected him with a diverse cross section of Americans.

“Service members work alongside fellow Americans from different economic classes and different geographic regions. We regularly interact with people with different belief systems and often learn why they believe what they do,” he says. “One reason philosophers engage in philosophical inquiry is because we want to make the world a better place, but if we as a discipline are disconnected from the real world, it may be hard to know what’s important to people other than philosophers.”

Americans can sometimes have stereotypical ideas of who veterans are, he says, but it’s important to remember veterans are an extremely diverse group.

“We come from a wide variety of backgrounds; we joined the military for a wide variety of reasons; and we have a wide variety of political beliefs,” he says.

One way to bridge the civil/military divide in America and reduce stereotypes is for civilians to take an active role in connecting with veterans about their experience, he says.

“The best way to learn about military service is to talk to a veteran,” Hamilton says.

Jason Hartwig, Ph.D. candidate in political science

Jason Hartwig stands with arms crossed in front of a statue on Penn’s campus.
Jason Hartwig says studying political science has been cathartic.

Growing up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Jason Hartwig was surrounded by what he calls a “glorification” of military service. His father was a National Park Service historian at the Civil War battlefield, and he grew up with a deep sense of patriotism and knowledge that he wanted to join the Army.

When terrorists attacked the U.S. on 9/11 during his senior year in high school, his desire to serve was amplified. He enrolled in Army ROTC at Dartmouth College, then commissioned as an armor officer stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

Hartwig, a Ph.D.candidate in political science, served five years as an armor officer, leading a tank platoon during a deployment to Iraq from March 2008 to March 2009 and a reconnaissance platoon in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from July 2010 to July 2011.

“I didn’t really know what political science was when I was in the military. My platoon was very successful at capturing insurgents and we would get credit for it. But I remember having the sense that there was so much happening politically that we didn’t know about on the ground, that there was this larger security and political landscape and we had no idea,” he says.

After he completed his Army service, he took an analyst job at the Department of Justice but eventually decided to get a master’s degree in security studies. His first political science classes at Georgetown opened his eyes.

Jason Hartwig wearing military fatigues standing in a valley while deployed on duty.
Jason Hartwig in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in January 2011 (Image: Courtesy of Jason Hartwig)

“The entire field is asking the questions that I was asking myself in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do things happen in conflict? Were things that I was doing making any impact?’” he says. “It was incredible. I didn’t know this is what political science did and within my first semester I knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D.”

On one level studying political science is cathartic, he says.

“These wars generally weren’t successful and you’re left feeling like you spent your youth on something that was largely a wasted sacrifice,” he says. “That’s frustrating, but it’s not something I want to dwell on. I know those were hard problems and seemingly intractable conflicts, but we can understand them better. For me, there’s catharsis in understanding why things happened the way they did.”

“It’s also useful to bring the perspective of someone who was in these wars to the table, particularly in research that will eventually help inform policy decisions,” he says.

“When Afghanistan fell, so many people decided they needed to call me and talk about it, because I was the only person they knew who had been there. At some level it’s a problem for society, but I think it’s also a problem for political science. The U.S. has been part of these major conflicts. It’s important that people who were actors in that conflict be a party to research, creating knowledge and teaching about it.”

Elite institutions like Penn are training the next generation of leaders, he says.

A person in combat fatigues sits on the ground speaking on a sat phone.
Jason Hartwig works in Nesh District, Afghanistan, March 2011 (Image: Courtesy of Jason Hartwig)

He tells his students a story of his time in Iraq that was initially one of his platoon’s greatest triumphs, where they cleared al-Qaida in Iraq fighters from a Sunni neighborhood and were given an award from the Iraqi National Police. Once the al-Qaida in Iraq fighters were gone, the national police, acting as a Shia security force, ethnically cleansed Sunnis in that neighborhood.

“We essentially aided that. It was devastating, and I tell students, ‘If you are in a position to be a policymaker, don’t make decisions that put that young 24-year-old officers in a position where it is impossible to do the right thing,’” he says.

He would encourage Penn students to consider the military as an option.

“I don’t think everyone should have military experience, but I think the more we can leaven that throughout our society, the better society we’ll have, especially if we’re a society that wants to keep getting into wars,” he says.

Greg Luttman, master of science candidate in Organizational Dynamics

Greg Lutmann sits on a bench in on campus near a statue.
Greg Luttman says Penn’s College of Liberal & Professional Studies has given him an opportunity to look at his military service and life experience in a different way.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Greg Luttman was starting his freshman year at Saint Peters University, just a stone’s throw from lower Manhattan in Jersey City, New Jersey.

He comes from a military family, with an uncle who served in Vietnam, a grandfather who served in the Pacific in World War II and great grandfather who tried to serve in World War I but due to his German heritage he was made to work stateside at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. Luttman saw the attacks on 9/11 as a sign that it was his turn.

“It was always in the back of my mind as a possibility but all of a sudden it was thrust to the forefront of my consciousness that this was my time and opportunity to serve my country,” he says.

He joined Army ROTC at Seton Hall and had what he calls “delusions of grandeur.”

“I wanted to be an infantry officer because I wanted to deploy and be as close to the fight as I possibly could,” he says. “I think we all thought that we were going to be the one that would go and capture Osama bin Laden.”

He was on active duty for five years, and after ranger, airborne and mountain warfare training deployed to Iraq in 2006. There he spent 15 months as an infantry rifle platoon leader in a town called Hawijah, located in the northern tip of the Sunni Triangle.

Upon his return to the states, he became a rear detachment commander during his unit’s second deployment to Iraq in 2008-2009, “one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had,” he says. Among his duties was notifying families of fallen and wounded soldiers.

“The military does a phenomenal job when it comes to handling death with dignity and respect, but the role was too much,” he says. “You knock on someone’s door to deliver the most terrible news they’re ever going to hear, and it never leaves you. In many ways, for me, it was more difficult than dealing with casualties on the battlefield.”

After a stint in the New Jersey National Guard, Luttman started thinking about how to transition his military skills into the civilian world, and it was trickier than he’d imagined.

“I thought with my background and leadership experience that there would be people tripping over themselves to give me $150,000-a-year jobs and that just wasn’t the case,” he says. “Having that level of responsibility at such a young age, which is so unique to the military, was hard for me to step down from and transfer directly into a civilian role.”

Greg Lutmann flashes a hand sign while strapped into a helicopter.
Luttman gestures during a training trip he coordinated with an Army aviation unit in 2013 along New York’s Hudson River. (Image: Courtesy of Gregg Luttman)

He eventually made his way into general management in the retail industry.

“What I realized was that the infantry officer that I had been for eight years was really just the general manager of the battlefield,” he says. “I utilize lessons about leadership, conflict management, and the importance of effective communication I’ve learned in the military every single day.”

He had been kicking around the idea of getting his MBA, but when the pandemic hit decided to look for a program that offered a top tier education in subjects he was truly passionate about. That’s when he discovered the Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics offered by Penn’s College of Liberal & Professional Studies. 

“I don’t feel like I found organizational dynamics, I feel like organizational dynamics found me,” he says. “There’s not a class I don’t enjoy, there’s not a topic I don’t like and I feel fortunate in that regard. The systems-based and human-centered approach to improving individual and organizational performance resonate with my skill set, experience, and passions.”

He says the program has given him an opportunity to look at his military service and life experience in a different way, interacting with professionals from other fields and lending his combat leadership experience to the conversation. It’s also had an unexpected mental health benefit, he says.

“My journey through this program has helped me reach a level of post-traumatic growth that I didn’t think was possible,” he says. “Through deep self-inquiry, course work, coaching, and interactive dialogue with faculty and fellow students, I was able to gain a new perspective about who I am and my potential.”

He draws inspiration from his friends and colleagues who didn’t come home from the war.

“I know I earned my GI Bill, but so did they alongside me. As my journey at Penn is ending, I have this overwhelming sense of gratitude right now and I believe I owe it to them and myself to be happy, to achieve self-actualization, and to impact people, organizations, and society in a positive way,” he says. “That’s my motivation.”

Luttman hopes more organizations will find ways to incorporate veterans’ unique experiences and skill sets that benefit both the veteran and organization.

“Diversity in experience and background matters, and veterans add so much value in that regard,” he says. “I think the greatest gift that we can give veterans is to extend an invitation to them that allows them to be seen, to be heard, and to be respected.”

Many small flags placed in the grass on College Green in front of College Hall.
(Homepage image) American flags dot the grass in front of College Hall.