MEGAN M. MCCLUNG, MAJ, USMCR
Megan McClung '95
Date of birth: April 14, 1972
Date of death: December 6, 2006
From the 1995 Lucky Bag:
From the Megan McClung Memorial Run site:
Major Megan Malia McClung graduated from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in May 1995. After The Basic School, she completed the Public Affairs Officer Qualification Course, Ft. Meade, MD. In 1996, Major McClung reported to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton where she served as the Public Affairs Officer and Media Officer; provided PA support to Special Operations Training Group, and served as Executive Officer, Support Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion.
Major McClung transferred to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Paris Island in 1999, where she served as the Academics and Scheduling Officer. At Parris Island, McClung impacted the Operations department by updating the Recruit Training SOP, Anti-Terrorism Force Protection SOP, and helped procure and establish the Early Warning Siren System. She again transferred to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Cherry Point, NC. Serving there as the PAO, she handled sensitive media issues that included several Class A mishaps and was named Cherry Point Athlete of the Year in 2002. In 2003, Major McClung transferred to the Reserves and worked as the East Coast Regional Representative for the Marine For Life program at Camp Lejeune, NC.
In 2004, Major McClung took a civilian position in public relations for Kellog, Brown, and Root in Baghdad, Iraq. While there, she handled 31 fatalities; public relations preparation for Congressional hearings; and escorted media throughout the theater. When her one-year contract was complete, Major McClung returned stateside and went on active duty with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, as the Deputy PAO.
In October 2005, Major McClung left MARFORLANT and deployed with I Marine Expeditionary Force in February 2006 for one year in Al Anbar Province. She was the Public Affairs Plans Officer at Camp Fallujah when she volunteered for duty with the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, operating in Ramadi. She was killed when her Humvee struck an improvised explosive device after escorting a FOX News crew to the Governance Center, and a Newsweek reporter to a Coalition outpost in the city.
Major McClung held a Bachelor of Science degree in General Science from the U.S. Naval Academy and completed her Masters in Criminal Justice through Boston University. Her awards include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
Major McClung was an avid marathon runner and tri-athlete. As a tri-athlete, she competed in seven Ironman distance triathalons. Her accomplishments include winning the First Military Female award in Kona in 2000 and placing second the next year. She organized the first Marine Corps Marathon (Forward) in Iraq to coincide with the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon and served as the Race Director. Despite running with an injury, she placed second among the female runners.
Major McClung was the daughter of Michael and Re McClung of Coupeville, Washington.
First a Marine and then an athlete, a beloved daughter, sister, friend, inspirational leader, selfless motivator and hero. Re McClung
From an article commemorating the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks authored by Captain David Poyer '71, USNR (Ret.) in the September-October 2016 of Shipmate:
Her entry in the Naval Academy Archives is brief: “Megan McClung, Twenty-third Company, General Science Major.” Her further record, and those of the other graduates in her class, will be closed to the public until the 2060s.3 But her mother, her classmates, fellow Marines and friends are more than willing to fill the gap.
At just 5’ 4”, and weighing only about 125 pounds,4 Megan Malia Leilani McClung was one of the smallest members of the Class of ’95. Her father was an Army brat; her grandfather, a World War II veteran. Michael McClung Sr. served as a Marine officer in Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive, then worked for a defense contractor’s classified and unclassified projects5 before earning a doctorate in information technology.6 Her mother, Dr. Re McClung, was the daughter of a Navy pilot and retired as a school district administrator.
Megan McClung grew up in Mission Viejo, CA. She was on the Cathy Rigby gymnastics team throughout high school, eventually becoming team captain but otherwise stuck close to her homework. Her decision to attend the Naval Academy came as a surprise to her parents. In fact, they didn’t find out until she asked them to attend a reception for those who’d just been appointed. In her application she had written, “I initially became interested in the Navy at a very early age. I come from a long line of military officers, my father and grandfather were naval officers, and I believe that defending our country is a duty that not only belongs to every man, but to every woman as well.” McClung attended a one-year academic prep program at Admiral Farragut Academy in New Jersey and was its first female graduate.
At the Academy, she was on the gymnastics team until it was disbanded, after which she joined the diving team. In their first-class year, Megan and Leah (Lucero) Seay ’95 trained together to run the Marine Corps Marathon. Seay said, “I am not a morning person, so the fact that Megan was able to get me out running before classes is nothing short of miraculous. Megan was like that though. She could make a 15-mile training run seem fun. In the end, we both completed our very first marathon. I, however, could barely walk down the stairs for a week and Megan was out running again the next day.” Running marathons, “she realized then that being accomplished physically earned her respect that she could leverage as a leader.” Megan faltered academically at first, but rallied. Summer school and a change of major enabled her to graduate 888th out of her 917-strong class.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, McClung served for nearly 10 years at various in-CONUS posts. Finding her first choice, flight school, ruled out by chronic airsickness, and barred then by the Combat Exclusion Policy from the infantry, she chose combat correspondent/ public affairs as promising to get her closest to the action.
She later told her dad, “The nicest thing about being a public affairs officer is that I can do everything the infantry guys do, but I don’t have to do the paperwork.” She served at Camp Pendleton, Parris Island and Cherry Point.
McClung left active duty in 2004 to join Halliburton (now a subsidiary of KBR), a civilian company focused on construction and engineering. She worked as a contractor in public affairs in Baghdad, Iraq, but remained in the Reserves. When her contract expired, she requested to return to active duty. After a short time at Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, she went back to Iraq as a public affairs officer assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, I MEF, working in Fallujah. When the Army’s Ready First Combat Team needed an immediate public affairs officer, McClung volunteered. Anxious to lead her own public affairs office, she headed for Ramadi, in dangerous Anbar Province.
Meanwhile, McClung had continued her athletic career, shifting focus from marathons to triathlons. She competed in seven Ironman events, winning the First Military Female award in 2000 at Kona. She organized the first Marine Corps Marathon (Forward) in Fallujah, Iraq, to coincide with the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon, and served as the race director. She initiated the Paul the Penguin Award for the last official finisher at each USMC Marathon, which her family continues to award each year at the race in Washington, DC. Her supervisor in Fallujah said, “Megan could outrun all but four people in camp and she could outshoot everyone not wearing the expert pistol or rifle badge.” McClung also continued her academic development, earning a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University while stationed in Iraq.
Being a public affairs officer in Anbar Province, especially in Ramadi—called at the time “The most dangerous city in Iraq,” —was no easy task. McClung was known for taking care of both her fellow Marines and the journalists she shepherded. Once, some enlisted men just returned from the field tired, dirty, hungry, were turned away by the KBR contractor running the mess hall, told ‘no food’ until they showered. McClung saw that and immediately took KBR to task. Those men got fed. “That story about the redheaded captain went rampant, all over, because she understood what the mission was and who was important,” her mother said. One of the journalists she worked with, Michael Fumento, shared this professional tribute: “McClung guided me so I saw what I needed to see rather than what I thought I needed to see. After each embed she diligently provided information that I’d been unable to gather in the field.” Another wrote: “She met us at headquarters with a huge grin. ‘I get to go out with you guys today! I am so excited!’ she gushed … ‘I’m so glad you’re here, so that I can go,’ she confided a few minutes later. ‘Usually I’m just stuck behind a desk all day.’ She couldn’t stand to keep still. She went out with her rifle, which looked especially huge on her tiny frame, and a green journal.”
McClung was in the final month of her year-long deployment in December 2006. On 6 December, she had just dropped off Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North ’68, USMC (Ret.), and a Fox News crew after a tour through Ramadi, and was out again escorting a Newsweek staffer (in a separate vehicle) on a story about training Iraqi police when a massive roadside bomb exploded. Two Army members in her Humvee, Army Captain Travis Patriquin and Army Specialist Vincent Pomante, III, were also killed.
North wrote: “If everything went as planned, they wouldn’t call it ‘war.’ That was the tongue-in-cheek assessment of a U.S. Marine major as to why our helicopter flight from Baghdad to Ramadi had been delayed for half a day. By the time we arrived on the LZ [landing zone] at this outpost of freedom it was the middle of an unusually cold, damp night. A proffered hot cup of coffee was gratefully accepted as the major helped us load our backpacks, camera gear and satellite broadcast equipment aboard a dust-encrusted Humvee. Just hours later, this widely respected and much admired Marine officer and two brave U.S. Army soldiers were dead, killed by an IED—an improvised explosive device—the insidious weapon of choice for terrorists in Iraq.” The Abu Alwan tribe, part of the Awakening, regarded their deaths as an attack on them as well, and killed or captured the insurgents involved in the IED planting within 10 days.
McClung’s awards include the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. She was buried in Arlington and lives on in a Marine Corps-wide annual leadership award given in her name, a yearly award by the Sea Service Leadership Association and the Major Megan M. McClung Memorial Scholarship, awarded by her parents and the Women Marines Association. The Major Megan McClung Memorial Scholarship is sponsored by the Athletic and Scholarship Programs of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, and there is a scholarship at Boston University in her name as well. The Defense Information School presents the Megan McClung Leadership Award each year, and the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association awards the Megan McClung Sport Photography annual merit award to combat correspondents and combat camera specialists.
From Marines.com by Courtesy Story, Headquarters Marine Corps:
'BE BRIEF. BE BOLD. BE GONE.': A DECADE LATER, MAJ. MEGAN M. MCCLUNG'S LEGACY LIVES ON
RAMADI, Iraq -- 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.
The phone call came on an average Wednesday to the 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 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.
McClung, who was 34 at the time of her death, was serving as a media relations officer when a roadside bomb killed her instantly in Ramadi, Iraq, Dec. 6, 2006. She and two other service members assigned the Army’s Brigade Combat Team, Capt. Travis Patriquin and Spec. Vincent Pomante, III, were also killed. 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.
“As I get older, her death resonates more than I thought it would after so many years. We are all moving on with our lives. I am married, with children, successful in my work and life and I know she would be proud, but the thought that she won't have these things is heartbreaking. Her memory is suspended in time,” reflected Staff Sgt. Lynn Kinney, who served with McClung and was a corporal at the time of the deployment.
Kinney also added that it’s been hard to watch events unfolding in Ramadi this year. “The recent news of the taking of Ramadi by ISIL has been hard to process. It makes me sad and angry to have lost so many lives, not just Megan, but the amazing potential of so many Marines whose lives were cut short.”
McClung had come from a family of military service and was commissioned as a Marine officer in 1995 and served nearly 10 years on active duty at various stateside locations. She remained in the Marine Corps reserves and was hired by Kellogg, Brown and Root, an American engineering and construction company, and served in Baghdad, Iraq as a private contractor in 2005.
When she returned to the U.S. in 2005, she was mobilized to active duty with the Marines, where she would deploy back to Iraq, but not return to home.
Retired Master Sgt. Willie Ellerbrock, who worked closely with McClung during their deployment, expressed how he honors her legacy. “I truly believe the best way to honor our fallen is to remember them and defend these liberties with all of our might and ability, as they did for us. Love deeply and live greatly - for them and yourselves.”
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.”
Player, the I MEF deputy PAO during the 2006 deployment, had known McClung for many years and was ‘crushed’ upon learning the news of her death that day from the director of public affairs for I MEF, Lt. Col. Bryan Salas.
Salas, who retired as a colonel a few years ago, now works as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Customer Service and Public Engagement Directorate at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Department of Homeland Security.
Salas had also known and worked with McClung at various times during their careers and had ‘recruited’ her to deploy with him and the I MEF (Forward) team as the Media Relations Officer in Anbar Province. Little did he know, or could have imagined, that a member of his team would fall victim to the violence that was mounting in the region.
“We all missed her very much. She was a great professional colleague, and friend. She was a great running partner. She led us with great encouragement in running and fitness. Megan was an unforgettable personality and I miss her tremendously,” Salas wrote in an email for this article.
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.
When asked if this changed the way people should feel about women serving in a combat zone, the senior enlisted leader for I MEF Public Affairs Officer explained his position. “No…but serving with Megan and women like her in Iraq, confirmed what I had already experienced in non-combat-related deployments and exercises. Namely, that honor, courage and commitment are not gender-specific attributes,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cordero.
Of all the hundreds of service members who had been killed during that year alone, almost everyone there at the time worked with someone or knew someone personally who had been killed or severely injured. According to globalsecurity.org, 119 service members lost their lives in the month of December 2006, which was the height of the violence centered in the Sunni Triangle.
Although her death came as a surprise to all who knew her, the other two who lost their lives where serving vital roles for then U.S. Army Col. Sean McFarland’s staff of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, or "Ready First" based at Camp Ramadi.
Patriquin, a young Special Forces officer, had already won a Bronze Star in Afghanistan before being transferred to Iraq. Patriquin set out to establish a crucial network with tribal leaders built on mutual trust and respect.
In 2006, Patriquin is largely credited with enabling the Sunni Awakening in early August where the influential sheiks of Anbar Province revolted against Al Qaeda insurgents. This movement spread through Anbar and eventually across the country - a turning point that led to dramatically lower levels of violence starting in mid-2007.
Before his tragic death from an IED explosion, Patriquin was so beloved by Iraqis that they adopted him into their tribes and loved him as a brother. A book was written about him by author William Doyle called A Soldier's Dream. It’s a tribute to a man who loved Iraq and a devoted soldier who made a crucial impact on the Iraq War.
The gunner in the vehicle, Pomante, 22, from Westerville, Ohio, was responsible for shepherding visitors to and from the flight line and planning the routes to important meetings at the Ramadi government center.
Although McClung, Patriquin and Pomante came from different backgrounds, they died side-by-side doing what they loved and defending the ideals of our nation. The perpetrators of the attack were never caught or brought to justice. Their deaths rippled across so many circles of families, friends and colleagues that are still trying to accept the tragedy.
Fellow female Marine officer and public affairs colleague, Jill Leyden, was a 2nd lieutenant when she served with McClung in Iraq. “It's difficult to describe how I changed. The best I can say is that there is a level of seriousness that I have not been able to shake off despite my best efforts.”
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. Her accomplishments include winning the First Military Female award in Kona, Hawaii, in 2000 and placing second the next year.
McClung organized the first Marine Corps Marathon (Forward) in Iraq to coincide with the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon in October and served as the race director just weeks before her death. Despite running with an injury, she placed second among the female runners.
McClung’s older brother, Michael, says that her death changed her family in ways they never expected. “The war impacted my life. It was the reason Megan was overseas and the direct cause she would not return. It changed the dynamic of my family, of my parents, and of how the rest of my life would be. Now, years later, I understand that grief changes shape, but never goes away.”
Childhood friends, classmates from the Naval Academy, members of the media and Marines who knew her reached out to the McClungs in several ways when news of her death was made known. The McClung family makes it a point to attend the Marine Corps Marathon in Wash., D.C. every year to award the “Penguin Award.”
McClung encouraged everyone to put forth his or her best effort and established the Penguin Award providing acknowledgement to the final runner that completed the 26.2 miles. In continuing the tradition at the MCM and in McClung’s memory, the Paul the Penguin Award is presented to the final official MCM finisher each year.
The Penguin Award, an honor given to the final finisher of the marathon for their efforts for not quitting no matter what their time would be.
The Penguin Award first made its unofficial appearance at the Marine Corps Marathon Forward in Iraq in 2006, a race she organized while deployed. She got the idea for the award from a blogger who she followed named John Bingham, who wrote that he loved to run but would never win a race because he was slow, so he would call himself “The Penguin,” according to a story posted to marines.mil.
“He really inspired [Meg],” said Re McClung, Megan’s mother. “So she asked for a penguin that she could give to the last official finisher.” John Bingham had the same life metaphor as Megan McClung. “It’s not important how fast you run it, it’s that you get to the goal, and you cross the finish line,” the article explained.
The director of MCM, Rick Nealis, contacted the McClung family in 2007 and asked if they would come to the marathon and present a penguin to the last official runner.
The McClung family has been presenting the Penguin Award for the last eight years and will continue to do so as a way to honor Megan’s memory. “As long as the McClung family is around and there are any of us to do it, we will be here to give the penguin to that last runner,” Re explained.
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.
In Iraq, U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno was responsible for building a state of the art broadcast studio in 2007, which allowed live interviews as well as numerous press events. He dedicated the studio to honor McClung’s tireless efforts while working in the public affairs field.
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.
In 2008, the first Major Megan M. McClung Memorial Scholarship was awarded to a college student by her parents, Drs. Re and Michael McClung and the Women Marines Association.
The Defense Information School began presenting the Maj. Megan McClung Leadership Award in 2011 to one graduating member of each Public Affairs Qualification Course. The Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association also created the Megan McClung Sport Photography annual merit award that recognizes excellence by combat correspondents and combat camera specialists.
More than 700 people attended her memorial service on a cold D.C. morning and Maj. Megan McClung was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60 with full military honors on Dec. 19, 2006. McClung, who was unmarried at the time of her death, 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. Her awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
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."