Christendom College Student Among Those Called to Active Duty

Feburary 8, 2002



By Maria T. Gaetano
Arlington Catholic HERALD Staff Writer

John O'Brien was resting one afternoon in his dorm after a long day of classes when he got the call. He listened to the official voice on the other end of the phone, struggling to fully comprehend the words of the United States Marine Corps Reserve (USMCR) Sergeant. After a few moments, there was no mistaking the reason for the call: the military reserve unit to which O'Brien belonged had been activated for duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

A senior at Christendom College in Front Royal, USMCR Corporal O'Brien had only a set of finals and one more semester until graduation when he was notified of his unit's pending activation this past December. He was engaged to be married this coming August, and was exploring job possibilities and places to live. His life was moving forward and he excitedly anticipated the coming year. Until he got the phone call on Dec. 12.

"I wasn't entirely surprised," O'Brien admits. "But I did wonder, why now? I had been expecting it since the attacks in September, but after time went by and the Taliban fell, I thought the chances of being activated were low. But still, there was always that possibility."

There were also several indicators, O'Brien explains, that his unit could be activated — like the new Conex boxes, which the military uses for gear and supplies when a unit moves, stacked in the parking lot during his December drill. "Nobody mentioned them, but we all noticed their presence," he said with a wry smile. And the leaders of his company advised them to get their paperwork in order, and encouraged the Marines to have wills written, another hint of the coming activation.

In spite of the inconvenience, the interruption of his studies and the time away from his family, O'Brien sees military service as his responsibility and is not hesitant about going. While he very much regrets that he will not be able to graduate and get married this year, he says that "this military activation is something I just have to do … it's my duty to my country."

Furthermore, O'Brien told the HERALD, he sees the coming months as a time for spiritual discernment and growth. "I think that it will be a time to grow closer to God and submit myself to His will. I am going to protect my family, my country, but coming home to them is important. So it's in God's hands."

After receiving the initial phone call, O'Brien told his family the news, beginning with his father, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. His family, though surprised, handled it well and was very supportive. "We'll get through this," said his mother, Maria O'Brien. She said that she and her husband, John J. O'Brien, have been helping their son prepare himself physically, emotionally and spiritually for the possibilities ahead. A longtime military family, they have been stationed in Europe and all around the U.S. Active duty is nothing new to the O'Brien family.

O'Brien's father, when asked to comment, said, "Catholic education is our primary concern and we are very disappointed about his not being able to finish school this year. A part of that education, however, is learning to honor one's legitimate commitments. John made a commitment that included this possibility. We are very proud of him because, in spite of the disappointment, he is living up to his responsibilities as the practical application of the theoretical principles from his education."

O'Brien belongs to the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, the first Marine infantry reserve battalion activated since the Sept. 1l attacks. He reported for duty to his reserve unit in Harrisburg, Pa., on Jan. 14 and left for North Carolina on Jan. 21. His active duty will include several months in Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he graduated boot camp in 1998. O'Brien's unit has been activated for one year but the time could be extended to two years under the Partial Mobilization authorized by President Bush.

O'Brien anticipates a year of hard training and possible foreign deployment, but he is ready for "whatever God has in store. As a Catholic, I don't have to fear the future, I just have to do my duty, work as hard as I can and trust in Providence for the rest."

This article is courtesy of The Arlington Catholic HERALD. Reprinted with permission.


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