NEWTON – Instead of going on to earn a master’s degree in business after graduating from Harvard, Jake Auchincloss enlisted in the Marines and served from 2010 to 2015, including a tour of duty in war-torn Afghanistan.
Veterans Day Nov. 11, he said, is “about service in pursuit of a larger mission, it’s about sacrifice in pursuit of the public good.” And while that last point is not unique to veterans, their degree of sacrifice and call to a larger mission “crystallizes this broader hunger that we have as a country for us to be thinking about the collective good.”
The 33-year-old Democratic congressman from Newton said he enlisted in the spirit of his grandfather, Melvin J. Glimcher, a son of Russian Jewish immigrants who was born in Brookline and grew up in Chelsea, and who enlisted in the Marines during World War II. Instead of sending him into combat, the Marine Corps sent him to study at Purdue University, where he earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in science and the other in mechanical engineering.
He would go on to earn top honors at Harvard Medical School and become an orthopedic surgeon at Mass General Hospital. He helped pioneer the development of artificial limbs and in the 1960s, he helped develop the “Boston Arm,” an electronic prosthetic arm which had movement triggered by faint electrical signals from the brain.
Auchincloss said it was the Marines that saw the potential in his grandfather, so he wanted to honor him by enlisting himself.
“The Marines at the lowest point of World War II had sent him to Purdue to study engineering,” Auchincloss said. “Changed his life. He was a 17-year-old skinny Jewish kid with no money to his name and it allowed him to become an eminent scientist.
“That would not have happened in any other country in the world, and it would not have happened if the Marine Corps had not seen something in him. And, I wanted to honor what the Marine Corps had done by wearing the uniform myself and by serving at a time when the Marine Corps was once again at war.”
Auchincloss said he would not be where he is in life today if the Marines had not believed in his grandfather.
“They changed the outcome of his life, and by extension my mother’s and my lives,” said Auchincloss, whose mother is Dr. Laurie Glimcher, president and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
In 2010, when Auchincloss graduated from Harvard, the nation was in the midst of a surge of troops to Afghanistan.
He went on to command infantry in Afghanistan in 2012 and a special operations unit in a counter-narcotics operation in Panama in 2014. After completing his active duty in 2015, he earned his MBA from MIT. He continues to serve in the Individual Ready Reserve, and he was promoted to the rank of major last year.
In the military, Auchincloss learned how to make decisions in stressful environments, and how to lead a disparate group of people toward a common purpose. He also learned about “being willing to subsume your own individual ego or ambition or even opinion into a larger mission.”
Auchincloss said he has been thinking about that last point while serving in Congress.
“It’s what Americans want us to do, at the national level” he said. “They want their elected representatives to put the country first and to try and think about things as what is best for the nation and set aside personal rivalries and set aside ego, to be willing to make compromises and to accomplish something that is bigger than anyone of ourselves individually.”
On the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Auchincloss said, “We were right to leave, but we can’t ignore it.” He said there is still diplomatic, humanitarian and economic work to be done there to prevent the country from spiraling into a narco-terror state and to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s dominance of rare earth metals mining.
Auchincloss, who joined Congress on Jan. 3, 2021, has made veteran issues a legislative priority, cosponsoring a number of bills including the Serving our LGBTQ Veterans Act to create a center to help LGBTQ+ veterans overcome barriers to accessing VA resources; the Reproductive Health Information for Veterans Act to provide veterans with information about reproductive health care services; the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 to support research on the mental health care needs of rural veterans; and the U.S.-Israel PTSD Collaborative Research Act to establish a grant program for American universities and nonprofits to partner with an Israeli counterpart on research on post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Nov. 6 at the Italian-American War Veterans Post 40 in Milford, Auchincloss and state Representative Brian Murray hosted a special Veterans Day Town Hall event for veterans and other members of the community.
“I want to give veterans an opportunity to tell their story, to share their concerns, and just to make their service more salient to the broader community,” Auchincloss said.