Naval Academy grads write book about service after 9/11
The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot
The U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2002 was just beginning its senior year in Annapolis on Sept. 11, 2001.
As news of a possible terrorist attack spread across the stately campus, many students crammed into classrooms in time to see a second plane slam into the World Trade Center and change everything.
In eight months, 965 seniors who entered the Naval Academy at a time of peace would graduate into bitter war, the first class to do so since Vietnam.
They have spent a decade fighting at sea, on land -- 162 Marines were in the Class of '02 -- and in the air.
Eleven years later, many of those seniors-turned-officers are sharing their stories in a new book, "In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America's Longest War."
The compilation of stories, which includes a forward by journalist David Gergen and an essay by Adm. Mike Mullen, hits bookstores across the nation today.
More than 200 members of the class contributed, but only 33 accounts could be included. They cover a wide spectrum of experiences from the nation's decade at war, in combat and at home.
Among the stories: a Marine officer leads a platoon during a bloody month in Fallujah; a sailor embeds with a team of soldiers on a mission to improve relations with Iraqi police; a gay naval officer celebrates the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy with a midnight wedding.
Lt. Cmdr. Josh Welle, the Class of 2002 student body president and a Virginia Beach resident stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, dreamed up the concept and was among four classmates who edited the book.
Welle and other contributors will dedicate the book today during a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington.
Welle said that after he returned from a 10-month deployment in 2009 to improve NATO and Afghan relations, he felt as if he had a story to tell. But it wasn't nearly as impressive as what his classmates had achieved, he said.
"I was not a combat arms Marine; I was not a fighter pilot who saved the lives of a striker battalion," Welle said. "But my best friends were. And I knew I had the capacity to connect the dots -- to weave together a narrative that would help America understand how we served after 9/11."
The result is a comprehensive account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the people who helped lead the fight -- some of them from Hampton Roads.
Fighter pilot Meagan Varley Flannigan writes about preparing for combat and overcoming discrimination from a few people at Oceana Naval Air Station as the last woman certified to fly an F-14 Tomcat before the jets were decommissioned.
Explosive ordnance disposal technician Eric Jewell details how his Virginia Beach-based unit overcame shaky relationships with Iraqi military police and defused countless improvised bombs that could have cost American lives.
Beach resident Carole A. Anderson pays tribute to her son, who fulfilled his dream of becoming a Navy helicopter pilot before dying in a training accident. His career included a rescue mission to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
The book's title alludes to a comment by broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, who said the American sailors and soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan might be "the next greatest generation."
In reviewing the book, Brokaw called it "a must read for all Americans," adding, "You'll stand a little straighter when you mingle with these remarkable fellow citizens."
Part of the Class of 2002's story is left untold, Welle said. Of 16 class members who became Navy SEALs, he said, none was willing to write, even under a pseudonym, citing the SEAL pledge of secrecy and humility.
Welle called the book the antithesis of "No Easy Day," the much-publicized and controversial SEAL memoir that includes a detailed first-person account of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
Welle said he's glad both books are being released around the same time.
"This isn't the story of one night or one exciting mission," Welle said. "This is the story of a nation at war and the men and women who stepped forward. This story wasn't written for the military; it was written for America."
Distributed by MCT Information Services