Sep 12, 2006

In the midst of danger: Students serve their country

by Joshua King
Sixty-five years ago, Japan executed an attack on American homeland. The deadly assault on Pearl Harbor caught the nation off guard and cost the lives of more than 2,400 people.  
On September 11, 2001, America’s enemies once again attempted to bring the nation to its knees by attacking our very own soil. This time, the death toll registered much higher, surpassing that of Pearl Harbor. The majority of those casualties were civilians. 

Like Pearl Harbor, the events of 9/11 demanded a response. That response came from Americans in every state as the undying spirit of patriotism surged through the veins of men and women throughout the nation.  

Seargent 1st Class Ricky Alexander of Liberty’s Army ROTC program described his thought process after the terrorist attack. 

“At first it was disbelief. It’s almost like the steps you go through in the process of losing a loved one. You watch and you think, ‘This can’t be happening.’ Then you get mad and want to do something about it,” he said.

Eric Forcey, an Army cadet and senior at Liberty, said the events of 9/11 influenced his decision to join the Army ROTC program and the Virginia National Guard. “That definitely played into it for sure,” he said. 

Forcey says his father, a military man for most of his life, was uneasy about his son’s decision to join the military so soon after 9/11. 

“He thought I wasn’t thinking about the decision all the way through.” After talking with Army recruiters, Forcey made the decision to go to basic training. Much of his inspiration came from the men and women in uniform who have already served their country overseas. 

“There are tons of people from Liberty who have been deployed already,” he said. “I know a bunch of them. It’s just really fascinating.”
One of those individuals who took the battle to the enemy is Corporal Mike Hughes, who currently serves as a recruiter for Liberty’s Army ROTC program. Hughes initially joined the Marine Corps. Reserve Unit in Lynchburg in 1996. 

After several years as a Marine, he came very close to calling it quits. 

“I fulfilled my duty and had decided to pretty much hang my boots up, and then God called me to come back to Liberty,” he said. 

Hughes joined the Virginia National Guard and volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan.
On March 1, 2004, he was deployed with the National Guard unit known as the “Bedford Boys.” Hughes served one year in Afghanistan as the unit’s weapons squad leader. He says his time spent overseas gave him a clearer perspective on America’s mission. 

“It was good having the firsthand experience of seeing what your works were accomplishing over there, like when you’re providing security for a school to be built, and then five months later being able to see a 12-year-old girl walk into a schoolhouse for the first time,” he said.

Hughes is convinced that the weapons caches his unit confiscated and the minefields they helped clear are all part of the continuing progress being made in the war on terror. 

He uses the terrorist groups’ recruiting efforts as an example. Terrorist organizations are being forced to pay more and more for people to be willing to plant bombs and attack troops.

“Back when this thing started in 2001, people who were setting up IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and roadside bombs were being paid $50 to do so. In 2002, it had gone up to about $350,” he said. “Now it’s costing terrorist groups almost $3,500 to get snipers and bombers to set up positions.”

According to Hughes, this is the type of progress that people never hear about in the media. He advises a different approach to getting the news. “I tell people that the easiest way for them to find out how things are going is to turn their TV off and talk to someone that’s been over there,” he said.

For soldiers such as Hughes who have been over there, the positive support from the public is a crucial driving force, something that has not been afforded the military in past wars. “You go to the parades and you go to the ‘Welcome Home’ ceremonies, and it just hits you like a ton of bricks,” he remarks.

“I view them as heroes,” said Major Robert Foy, the Army ROTC Director at Liberty. “This is a tough war and they deserve a lot of respect.”

Alexander agreed. 

“They’ve done more in that one year of deployment than most of us will ever do in a lifetime. We owe them undying gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made.” 

As the death toll of American soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan climbs daily, those sacrifices become all too apparent. 

“We live in the greatest place in the world,” said Hughes. “Sometimes sacrifices have to be made in order to maintain it. Fortunately, the service men and women that are over there are willing to make that sacrifice.”
Contact Joshua King at

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