Brendan Hart wanted to be a fireman, not a Marine. As a New Yorker who saw the devastation of the Sept. 11 attacks first-hand, he felt a burn that all veterans can identify with: the desire to serve. He immediately tried to join New York Fire Department, but so did a lot of other people in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.The waitlist was several years, forcing Hart to reevaluate his future.
With local service out of the picture, Hart — now a 34-year-old entrepreneur living in Brooklyn — decided to enlist in the Marines. Despite his initial reluctance, he knew he made a great decision marching across the parade deck at his boot camp graduation in 2002. His entire family gathered at Parris Island to see this unlikely event.
“Their expression said it all,” Hart remembers. “I realized that, to those who loved me, I would never be the same man.”
Hart was selected for the elite fleet antiterrorism security teams, or FAST, unit. He quickly realized that he was going to be an unusual FAST Marine. Hart knew that military leadership was about much more than squad movements and overwatch, and he was determined to expose his Marines to more than the traditional training.
Before his team’s second deployment, Hart assigned them “The Great Gatsby,” and then report back on what they learned. “Gatsby is aspirational,” Hart says. “It was also about as far away as possible from our reality at that point. I wanted my team to know there is more to life than guns and war.”
After working on his education part-time in the Corps, Hart transferred to Dartmouth College once he left the Marines in 2006. At Dartmouth, he was immediately tested. He had to prove he could perform in a high-stress, insular campus full of over-achievers.