Military experience provides “a level of discipline and willingness to work hard even when it’s uncomfortable,” says Nathan Garrett Jester ’20

When Nathan Garrett Jester ’20 was a teenager in Atlanta, he informed his parents that he was set on enlisting in the Marine Corps and had already met with a recruiter.

“My dad said, ‘It’s your decision,’” Jester recalls, “but then he told me about this place called the [U.S.] Naval Academy. I’d never heard of it. He said that the entire time he was in the Marines—he served in Vietnam—he never saw a black officer. He said, ‘It’d be amazing for you to go to the Naval Academy and go out into the Marines and be the thing I never saw or even thought was possible in the Marine Corps.’”

When Jester visited the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., he liked what he saw. “I thought it would be a great opportunity,” he says. “I thought it would make me into the Marine and leader and warrior I wanted to be.”

Jester, who became fluent in Spanish in high school, graduated in the top 5 percent of his class at the Academy. A self-described math hater when he arrived there, he came to love calculus and engineering so much that this year he’s in a reading group, Mathematical Models of Law, led by Professor Holger Spamann LL.M. ’01 S.J.D.’09, which examines models for understanding legal decision-making and outcomes.

“I definitely appreciate what the Naval Academy taught me and how it made me better. One thing, it made me into a really hard worker and really disciplined,” he says, qualities that his five years in the military developed further.

Jester had never tried boxing before the Academy but became the three-time U.S. Naval Academy Brigade Boxing Champion, a three-time National College Boxing Association All-American boxer, and a finalist in the 2009 NCBA National Tournament. “Outside of the physical stuff, boxing taught me how to read people and understand nonverbal cues. You’re in the boxing ring and trying not to get punched in the face, so it’s a great incentive to see what a person is thinking and feeling just by looking in their eyes,” he says.

After the Academy, Jester commissioned in the Marines and attended the Basic Officer Course, then elected to join the infantry and went through the infantry officer course, considered the most demanding course in the Corps and one of the most demanding in the military.

He then chose to join the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., which he describes as the modern equivalent of the cavalry. While driving large, armored, eight-wheel vehicles that are armed with huge amounts of firepower, the battalion members use the weapons, sensing and optic capabilities of the vehicle to locate enemy combatants and collect other information. “We like to say we’re able to fight for information because we have so many cannons, machine guns and other weapons at our disposal,” he says. “The goal is to protect the infantry soldiers by finding the enemy before they can attack.”

As a platoon commander, he supervised 41 personnel and $16 million in equipment and weapons during amphibious and land-based operations in California, Hawaii, and Kuwait. He then did a short stint as executive officer, supervising 130 personnel during daily operations, and managing 32 armored vehicles and 200 weapons worth more than $100 million. In 2015, he deployed for seven months with a Marine Expeditionary Unit of about 3,000 Marines and over 1,000 sailors, sailing around the world with a focus on conflict areas in the Middle East and Africa.

In his final year in the Corps, Jester supervised the 12-week boot camp for 1,000 newly enlisted Marines at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where he oversaw drill instructors and made sure that regulations were followed so that recruits were not abused. “It was interesting to see how the Marine Corps teaches values like honor and courage, and tries to get 250 or 500 young people to live those values,” he says.

“I’ve heard, not just from the vets I know at law school but teachers as well, that veterans come here and do really well,” says Jester, who joined the Harvard Mediation Program this year. Military experience provides “a level of discipline and willingness to work hard even when it’s uncomfortable. You are forced to plan”—the Marines are focused on meticulous planning to achieve goals, he notes—“but it’s very beneficial.”

In fact, he says, “I enjoy law school which maybe makes me a nerd but I am having fun and having a good a time.” He laughs, and adds, “No, it’s not harder than Marines which may be why I’m having a great time.” His favorite course so far? “I think I like civil procedure most,” he answers. When a reporter expresses surprise—not many law students would give that answer—Jester laughs again and says, “I know, I know! I know I shouldn’t—but it’s the most similar to engineering: there are the facts, and you try to fit them into the model of what the rules are.”

In becoming a Marine and then a lawyer, Jester—who has interest in someday going into local or state politics in his home state of Georgia—has followed in the footsteps of his father. He chose HLS, Jester says, because he wasn’t exactly sure of his career plans in the law “and I thought it would open the most doors for me.” He adds, “I know I eventually want to go back to Atlanta and serve the community where I was born and raised.”