The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

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Defining ‘veteran’

1st Lit. Megan O’Leary of the Army National Guard spells out what it means

1st Lit. Megan O’Leary is many things: a former figure skater, self-proclaimed amateur chef, Olympic weightlifter, a UH60M Blackhawk pilot. 

A veteran.

“A veteran simply put: A person who has served in the armed forces,” O’Leary said. “But to me, it’s more than that. Being a veteran is not something you are because of a commitment you did. It’s who you transformed into, who you became in the process of serving.”

O’Leary addressed a crowd of veterans and high school students during Thursday’s annual Veterans Day ceremony in the auditorium.

Growing up in Chicago as a competitive figure skater, O’Leary’s life dream was to be the best athlete she could be.

I wasn’t always on the path to serve,” she said. “In fact, it wasn’t even a twinkle in my mind. I always loved and respected the armed forces. But my life path was taking me in another direction.”

After getting a degree in interior design and learning, she learned no amount of money or success could grant happiness without a “deep sense of purpose.” She knew it was time for a change.

“I was 28 and unfulfilled,” she said. “I felt an unwavering and earth shattering pull to service. But what would I do? I wanted to do something awesome. Something that would light my soul on fire. A helicopter pilot.” 

O’Leary moved to Texas, joined the National Guard and got started on her five year journey to get to where she is today.

“And all along that journey, I slowly started to become a veteran,” she said.

The process of O’Leary becoming a veteran began with basic training.

“We were doing a ruck march,” she said. The soldier next to me fell down, rolled their ankle and couldn’t carry their ruck. I picked up the ruck, strapped it to my front and we continued on. Together. As a team, as a family, as an army.”

Next, at Officer Candidate School, she continued becoming a veteran.

Our commander talked to us at the end of a month long exercise in the field, he said ‘Don’t try to make mission. Care about your men. Care about the human element. for you can’t make mission, without the men’. That really resonated with me,” she said. “Servitude. People. Becoming a veteran.”

During her two years at flight school, she learned the perks associated with becoming a veteran.

“A dream,” she said. “I’ve never been so fortunate to have the privilege to work so hard, and have the opportunity to do something as incredible as flying a combat ready helicopter.”

At the end of all this, she was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Here is where she would learn what it meant to be a veteran.

“While over there, we had one particularly bad day where some Americans didn’t come home,” she said. “Some were injured. But together, as a family, army, and group of veterans, we banded together and did our job. Our calling. To serve and to fight. To protect our country, people first.”

Closing her speech, in a room full of young and old, she emphasized that one doesn’t have to earn the title of veteran to act like one.

“Whether or not you become a veteran one day, I hope you lead a life of love, purpose and fulfillment,” she said. “I hope you put people first. And I hope you go forth, and act like a veteran.”

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