Veterans Day is an opportunity for the country to reflect on the service of those willing to put their lives on the line to protect the values we hold most dear. For those that served, it’s a chance to recall their military careers. It’s also a day to look back at the motivations behind joining one of the four branches. To some, military service was a family tradition. For others, it was a fresh start.
This year, Military Times reached out to veterans to get firsthand accounts of why they joined the military.
“I had always juggled with the idea of joining the military while in high school, but I chickened out instead, [and] I went to college like most other recent graduates. After completing my BA in 2008, I had a rough time finding a job and the economy was less than ideal. With student loans to pay off, I knew I had to figure something out. So, I wandered into a recruiting office and signed up without having any knowledge of what I was doing or getting myself into. I completed my five year Navy contract in 2014 and have no regrets.”
— Laura Muñoz, 34, Navy, North Carolina
“I was mentored by two Vietnam veterans in high school. One was my academic counselor and the other was in our development office. Coach Andy Slatt was also CW4 Andy Slatt and was shot down in Vietnam as an aeroscout. Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a Dustoff pilot. Both talked to me about the values and shared sense of purpose. I liked the idea of being on a team.”
— Ryan Kranc, 42, Army, Virginia
“I joined the Marines in 2008 because I was broke and needed money for school. Was majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota and was three semesters in when I joined. Went in as a combat correspondent, ended up getting into broadcasting and worked at AFN in Iwakuni Japan and AFN Afghanistan. Got out in 2011, finished school, graduated in 2014, and have been in TV ever since.”
Brad Hanson, 34, Marine Corps, Wisconsin
“[I had] no interest in going to college and thought I knew the direction for my life. Ended up being a great chance to grow.”
— Elizabeth Ruiz, 36, Marine Corps, North Carolina
“I signed up for the military to ‘get away.’ I had gone to culinary school and settled for a job as an assistant manager to a local pizza place. I was really sick of where my life was going and I wanted ‘more’ for my life. So I decided to join the Air Force and travel and get out to see the world for free. I recently found out a former friend/crush went into the Air Force for four years and was deployed overseas. He was the class clown. I thought to myself, ‘If this class clown with a C-average can make it in the Air Force, I know I can.’ So all this ran through my mind as I was in my car driving down the highway, and the song ‘Fly Away’ by Lenny Kravitz was playing in the background on the radio... and I thought, 'I am going to sign up for the Air Force, that is what I am going to do. I am going to ‘get away, fly away’ as the song implied.”
— Jodie Mather, 45, Air Force, Wisconsin
“I signed up to serve because I felt very fortunate to grow up with the freedoms of this country. My mother and grandmother immigrated from Cuba in 1966 to escape the authoritarian regime of Fidel Castro, and my service was a way to thank them and the country that has given us so much. West Point offered an incredible education opportunity at no cost other than the commitment to serve in the Army. I was also humbled to think that I was walking in the footsteps of giants such as Presidents Eisenhower and Grant, Gen. MacArthur and others. I decided to stay in the service because of the people, their indomitable will, spirit and camaraderie to tackle any problem, mission or assignment.”
— Harrison Brandon Morgan, 29, Army, Kansas
“I am Navajo. I grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Crystal, New Mexico. I was in 10th grade, not planning on joining the military at all. I was actually planning on going to college. One day, my history teacher ran into our classroom and turned on the television. As he quickly shuffled through the channels, everyone stopped what they were doing and became concerned. The news outlet showed the World Trade Center Towers in New York City right after the second tower was hit. What I saw that day changed this country and changed me. I thought about what I could do, how I can support and protect my country. I went to a recruiter in Gallup, New Mexico, and started the process. I was delayed entry until I graduated high school. On July 22, 2003, I got on the first plane ride to go to basic training. I was in the Army for 15 years, five months, and five days. As I look back, I am proud of my teenage self for making that decision — that I stepped up, I volunteered, I made a major decision all on my own.”
— Reba Lynn Benally, 35, Army, Arizona.
**Accounts have been edited for clarity.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.