Story and photo by Cpl. Katherine Keleher
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Many Americans remember where they were when they heard the news on September 11, 2001. They remember watching the planes crash into the World Trade Center towers and listening to the news about the plane crash at the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pa. Some felt sorrow, anger or fear. Others felt a call to serve. First Lt. John McJunkin was one of the latter.
Now, nearly ten years to the day of the attack, McJunkin, is deployed to Afghanistan serving as the budget officer for Regional Command Southwest.
McJunkin, a native of Houston, was sleeping in his dormitory room, at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, that Tuesday morning before class. His door flew open and his roommate yelled at him to wake up, that America was under attack.
The two made their way to the building’s common area, where the second plane flying into the south tower was replaying on a big-screen TV.
“We didn’t know exactly what was happening, but the biggest thing that was going through my head once we found out that Osama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda were taking claim for it was ‘Why?,’” he explained nearly 10 years after the tragic day.
On October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced America was going to war.
“He said that we were going to war and that it was a holy war,” McJunkin reflected. “That was when I said ‘okay, I’m going to pick up arms. I’m going to protect our freedom of religion that is provided in America. I’m not going to allow extremism through Islamic jihad to grow and affect our way of life. It’s just not going to happen on my watch.’”
McJunkin left college and landed himself on the yellow footprints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, July 29, 2002.
“I think it’s really noble of him to have put the welfare of his country ahead of himself and his education,” said Sgt. Warren Webber III, the RC(SW) budget chief, and a native of Indian River, Mich. “He’s a good Marine and leader because he’s mission accomplishment first, then troop welfare. He has the total Marine concept and lives for the Marine Corps.”
On choosing which branch to join, McJunkin said his decision was easy.
“I wanted to get down and dirty. I wanted to be a part of the world’s finest war fighting organization there is to offer,” he boasted on his decision to join the Corps. “I think the challenge was why I came to the Marine Corps as opposed to any other branch of service. The Marine Corps, well there’s just something about it. It’s small and it has the same capabilities of all the other services.”
Coming in with an open contract on the enlisted side of the Marine Corps, the Corps put McJunkin in the job field of financial management. Lucky for him, he enjoyed his work.
But, something was still missing. He decided he wanted to finish his degree and become a commissioned officer. McJunkin applied for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training program [BOOST] and was accepted. He graduated from Worcester State University and received his commission July 29, 2009, exactly seven years to the day after he arrived at MCRD San Diego. Opting to stay in the field of finance, McJunkin became a budget officer.
“Everyday our dollars that we employ across all six war fighting functions, whether it is logistics, command and control or if it is fires – it touches a dollar,” he said. “Somebody has to account for that. Through the Global War on Terrorism some would say that our deficit is too large to bear. I like to know that since September 11, everything we’re doing with money as a weapon system directly correlates to September 11, 2001.”
McJunkin said he feels fortunate to know that as the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks, he is serving in Afghanistan alongside what he considers to be nothing but good Americans.
“I think every generation has that call to arms,” he explained. “Whether it’s World War I, World War II, Korea or Vietnam. We might be known as the iPod generation. We might be a little bit more sophisticated with Xbox and Playstation. But, I think we’re still as hungry and we’re still as strong and capable as the generations who have gone before us.
“I think everybody who is in uniform today is a good person just trying to answer the call to arms. This is an all volunteer service right out here in Afghanistan. And throughout my tour I’ve met some fine people, some fine Americans.”
McJunkin looks forward to returning home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. this spring, where he will be reunited with his wife Laura and their young daughter.