Ben Harrow '00 Urges Woodberry Students to Stretch Their Comfort Zones

Ben Harrow '00 returned to Woodberry Forest last week to tell students about his story of personal growth and encourage them to use the skills they learn at Woodberry as they move forward in their lives. 

Ben came to Woodberry from New York's Long Island. He excelled as a lacrosse player and went on to play at the United States Military Academy, where he was part of three NCAA tournament teams. 

After commissioning into the infantry, Ben eventually joined the Army's Special Forces, deploying several times to Iraq and Afghanistan and rising to the rank of captain. 

It was on one of those deployments, on May 15, 2015, that Ben stepped through a doorway of a house in Afghanistan and triggered an improvised explosive device. 

"I remember flying through the air and then waking up with the taste of dust and explosion in my mouth, and hearing a machine gun going off, small arms fire, and the sounds of utter chaos," Ben told students from a wide range of English and history classes. "As I was lying on the ground I was thinking of a picture of my wife and son, and saying their names over and over." 

He eventually passed out, waking up three days later at a military hospital in Germany. He lost both legs, several fingers on his right hand, and a portion of his right arm in the explosion. He went through months of surgeries, including an experimental bone-lengthening procedure that helped him regrow a portion of his femur and enable him to more easily use prosthetic limbs. 

Referring slyly to his prosthetics at the start of his remarks, Ben said he wanted to answer what he knew must be the boys' burning question: "How did a guy from Long Island wind up at Woodberry?"

Ben told Woodberry students that he wants them to learn what he discovered, both from his training and service in the Special Forces and his recovery after being wounded. 

"Your comfort zone is elastic. Every time you step out of it, you widen your aperture and expand your comfort zone," he said. 

He also said students must show commitment in their lives, which he noted is "more than just repetitive work." Commitment, he said, includes a belief in what you're working toward and a desire to keep improving.  And Ben urged students to be adaptable, learning to react with poise to circumstances beyond their control. 

"All of this is linked to individual responsibility," he said. "Nobody can do Woodberry for you."

During one Q&A session after his talk, a student asked Ben what he wished he'd known about Woodberry when he was a student. 

"How important the structure here is, and how important it is to be learning your limits and learning right from wrong," he said. "In the Special Forces there is a huge gray area in how we do our work, and knowing what's right and what's wrong is critical."
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