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The hardest choice: Accepting the call to serve
Tom Sileo's op-ed column on The Unknown Soldiers: The Hardest Choice

 Many heroes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Tom Sileo
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Date published: 11/15/2012

ATLANTA

--While working inside newsrooms for eight years after the 9/11 attacks, I was exposed to an ugly stereotype. Most members of the military aren't serving because they want to fight for their country, I often heard, but because they are underprivileged and have no choice.

After spending the last three years talking to American troops, veterans, and their families, I can write with certainty that this generalization is false. Our brave men and women in uniform do indeed have a choice, yet pick the hardest possible path: serving during wartime.

A recent meeting with U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nick Vogt at Walter Reed National Medical Center shows the fallacy of a stereotype perpetuated by some inside the national media. Despite losing both legs in a Nov. 12, 2011, terrorist attack in Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Vogt has no regrets about his choice.

Upon graduating from West Point, the young Army officer was accepted to medical school. He chose to lead an infantry platoon in Afghanistan instead.

Of course, stepping on an enemy improvised explosive device wasn't part of the Ohio native's plan. But instead of lamenting his injuries, the 24-year-old soldier is constantly pushing himself. When I sat beside Nick for an hour on Oct. 12, there was a thick medical book on his table. The double amputee is studying for his MCAT exam.

U.S. Marine Maj. Megan McClung also chose a courageous path. After the ambitious daughter of a Marine graduated the U.S. Naval Academy and served in Iraq, she left the military and worked in Kuwait as a contractor. But instead of coming home to Washington state and using a master's degree from Boston University to launch a lucrative career, she chose a different future.

"After she got home, her next breath was 'I need to go back as a Marine,'" Megan's mother, Re McClung, told me.

Maj. McClung deployed to Iraq as a public affairs specialist and worked with reporters using a simple, yet profound motto: "Be bold. Be brief. Be gone."


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