Almost a decade has past since the death of U.S. Marine Maj. Megan M. McClung but her legacy continues to grow with every year since her passing in 2006.
McClung was the first female Marine officer to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as the first female graduate of the United States Naval Academy to be killed in action since the school was founded in 1845.
I remember it like it was yesterday, but the phone call came on an average Wednesday to our Public Affairs Office at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. The news was devastating to our close-knit team as we were nearing the end of a yearlong deployment with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
McClung was 34 at the time of her death and serving as a media relations officer when a roadside bomb killed her instantly in Ramadi, Iraq, Dec. 6, 2006. The convoy McClung had been riding in was escorting Newsweek journalists when an improvised explosive device struck their vehicle. The Newsweek journalists were in another vehicle and escaped without injury. McClung had been escorting retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North and a Fox News Channel camera crew earlier in the day and were devastated when they learned the news of the attack.
Former colleague and classmate from their time at the Defense Information School, Col. Riccoh Player wrote in an email “Megan served with the mindset of running to the sound of battle, not away from it. She accepted every mission, every billet, every challenge with vigor, creative abandon and a find-a-way-to-make-a-way ethos.”
McClung had come from a family of military service and was commissioned in 1995 and served nearly 10 years on active duty at various stateside locations before joining the Marine Reserves. As the first female Marine officer to be killed in Iraq, many senior officials and media took notice because this crossed into new territory for women who were now sharing the same burden and risk as male Marines. Those serving on Female Engagement Teams, mounted patrols outside the wire and other various missions were no less at risk than their male counterparts.
McClung’s bright red hair and larger-than-life personality left a mark on so many that knew her. As an avid runner and triathlete, she was well known throughout the Marines’ triathlon community. As a triathlete, she competed in seven Ironman distance triathlons and her accomplishments include winning the First Military Female award in Kona, Hawaii, in 2000 and placing second the next year.
Childhood friends, classmates from the Naval Academy, members of the media and Marines who knew her reached out to the McClung family in several ways when news of her death was made known. There have been several other memorials and honors paid to McClung since 2006. A Marine Corps-wide annual leadership award in her name seeks to highlight achievements of an outstanding leader, role model and mentor. The Sea Service Leadership Association sponsors the yearly award and it’s presented at the annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium in June. Other notable recognition included when retired Marine Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter honored McClung for her sacrifice during a speech at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 4, 2008.
More than 700 people attended her memorial service on a cold D.C. morning where she was buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on Dec. 19, 2006. McClung was unmarried at the time of her death and held a Bachelor of Science degree in General Science from the U.S. Naval Academy and had just completed her Masters in Criminal Justice from Boston University.
One of her most lasting legacies was a phrase she coined while training troops and senior officials on how to conduct media interviews. Her headstone is engraved with her mantra, fitting perhaps for someone whose life was short, but lived so well: "Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone."
*Amy Forsythe was an award-winning U.S. Marine Combat Correspondent from 1993 to 2010 and served four combat tours. She earned a commission in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2010 as a public affairs officer. She holds a master’s degree from University of San Diego and a bachelor’s degree from California State University at San Marcos. She currently works as a civilian for Defense Media Activity as the Bureau Chief in Guam for American Forces Network-Pacific. Twitter: @amy_forsythe