Proud to Serve

With the Army extending the tour of duty for some soldiers, Byron Pitts reflects on one soldier's story. - Ed.

Todd McGowan is like a lot of the young people I've met over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Todd was a proud part of America's volunteer military. I met US Army Captain McGowan in Northern Iraq one August about three years ago. It was 130-degrees out that day. Todd stood out: Besides standing about 6'5" (Todd's built like an NFL tight end without the tattoos and the attitude), he was the guy smiling while he sweat. A West Point Grad, Todd was "Joe Army." And like a lot of "the kids" I met overseas, Todd had plenty of great options in life, but chose the military out of a sense of duty and pride. It always irks me when people clamor on about how the US military is full of kids who had no other choice. That's certainly true for some, but I'd argue that's NOT the case for most.... but anyway....

Todd McGowan was proud to be in Iraq. Proud to serve his country. But after 358 days in combat, Todd changed. So did a lot of the young people I met. They still loved their country--in most cases, they now love America even more. They still had a connection to their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that someone on the outside would never understand. But they'd also lost friends, watched comrades die and tasted that "fog of war" politicians and reporters love to pine on about.

Perhaps like warriors of old, Todd had become leery of war. After his tour, he came home, hugged his wife and started a career in corporate America. As best I can tell, Todd was a rising star. His future was bright. He and his lovely bride Traci were planning a family. They're the kind of couple we'd all like to be related to: smart, attractive, organized, optimistic and hard working. Todd and Traci thought they were done with the military. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt kind of thing.

On September 8th,the McGowans found out they may have been done with the military, but the military wasn't done with them. Todd was reactivated. He's what's called an I.R.R. (Individual Ready Reserve). As it's been described to me, they're the ones who are "semi-retired." They did their time and they're all but done with the military. Unlike '"reservist" or "active duty" who are still on the government payroll, IRR's had basically already traded in military boots for civilian shoes (at least in their minds). But according to the fine print of their military contracts, Uncle Sam could call them back, if needed. The Army's called back about 14,000 I.R.R's... and the Marine Corp another 2,500.

As you might imagine, Todd and Traci were stunned when the letter came in the mail. They were not prepared physically or emotionally. Todd will head back into service 23 days after receiving that letter. 23 days! Can you imagine? A voice from the past says "Hey, I need you for 545 days. Drop what you're doing and come see me in about three weeks."

That's the world facing Todd and Traci McGowan. I mention Traci, because anyone who's ever served in the military or who's had a relative serve... you know "service" means a sacrifice by the whole family, especially the spouse and children.

I talked to Todd just today. He says he's "numb." He's a patriot so he'll serve. He told me how he had 10 close friends killed in Iraq. Six were fellow cadets from West Point.

And Traci will once again send off awesome care packages. I already know the children they'll have someday will be the envy of their college classmates when Momma McGowan sends care packages.

No one should feel sorry for Traci or Todd. But I'd encourage all who know the power of prayer to keep this couple in yours. They're just two of thousands of young couples -- families who've already sacrificed at least once, and have been asked to sacrifice again.

Of course thousands more of American families are paying a high price now with loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan; others have had loved ones killed or injured overseas. They all deserve our prayers and support.

If you ever get to meet Todd McGowan, you'll like him. I sure do.