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A Shining Star

A Shining StarTufts graduate Elliot Ackerman, a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, recently received the Silver Star—the nation’s third- highest military award for valor— for his role in the 2004 battle of Fallujah.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.29.07] Ask 1st Lt. Elliot Ackerman (A'03, F'03) about his recent Silver Star award and he's quick to point out that he couldn't have done it alone. "The guys in my platoon were there every step of the way," the Tufts graduate recalled about the United States Marines who fought beside him in Fallujah, Iraq. But the platoon commander, who earned the nation's third highest military honor for valor, was singled out for his extreme courage in the face of enemy counterattack. He accepted the award at a ceremony at a North Carolina base camp earlier this month.

Ackerman-SilverStar"It's a really humbling thing and at the same time it's an honor," Ackerman recently told E-News. "But the great honor is being able to serve with all of the guys in my platoon. This is not just a recognition for me; it's a recognition for all of them."

The 26-year-old Washington, D.C., native, who joined the Marine Corps in 2003 after earning a bachelor's degree in history from Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences and a Master of Arts in law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School, was recognized for his role in a November 2004 battle in Fallujah. According to a citation summarizing his actions, Ackerman directed tank fires, coordinated efforts with adjacent platoons, and pulled wounded Marines out of the line of fire.

"Lt. Ackerman's heroic actions during this period reflect a level of bravery, composure under fire, and combat leadership that is beyond expectations," the citation reads. "By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of great personal danger ...Ackerman upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service."

Reflecting on the battle and the award, Ackerman told E-News that he was just fulfilling his duty as a marine. "Sometimes you are asked to do your job in an extreme situation," Ackerman said. "You do what you have to do."

AckermanGrowing up, Ackerman aspired to a career that would allow him to make a powerful impact. He considered an ideal job to be one in which his performance-good or bad-would have "significant ramifications." He made up his mind to enter the Marine Corps when he was 17, but chose first to attend Tufts to expand his horizons.

"Tufts has a diverse student body from all over the world," Ackerman said, pointing out that meeting people of different backgrounds and opinions helped him to reshape some of his own thoughts about the world. "My time there was really valuable in that if forced me to broaden my mind."

Ackerman said his Tufts education has also helped him contextualize his experiences as a Marine, which include serving in Iraq, helping to evacuate American citizens from Lebanon during last summer's Israeli attacks, and assisting in the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

"I am currently working at the tactical level, dealing with the day-in and day-out problems," said Ackerman, who sees a connection between his work on the ground and the many academic, strategic and political debates he took part in at The Fletcher School. "My education has given me the ability to look at the bigger picture. You can see how a lot of these larger decisions affect the guys on the ground."

Happy in his current role as a platoon commander overseeing tactical operations, Ackerman has no plans to shift course. "Right now, I love what I am doing," he said.

Ackerman explained that being in a position to make a difference in the world when "the stakes are so high" is what means the most.

"With the opportunities I have been given, I feel like a fortunate son," he said. "I feel an obligation to give something back."

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