By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The sight of airliners, full of innocent travelers, turned into weapons and slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shook millions of Americans.
It was a day that made many weep and millions pray. And for some, it made them look deep inside to ask how much they would be willing to sacrifice for freedom.
(Tony Jones photo)
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Jared Raftery was one of those.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old Hyde Park man will turn his back on a promising business career to join the Navy.
"Sept. 11 was a day that changed me," Mr. Raftery says. "With what this country has gone through. ... I had to ask myself, `If not me, who?' I can't just keep pointing the finger at the next guy."
Before Sept. 11, 2001, military service was not on Mr. Raftery's radar.
Being a success in the business world most certainly was.
A native of St. Louis, Mo., he came to Ohio after high school when Wright State University recruited him for his skills as a soccer player.
There, he helped found a chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity while completing a marketing degree. After graduation, the new chapter's adviser, a retired Xerox executive, steered Mr. Raftery to a sales job at Xerox's Blue Ash office.
Before long, he earned a spot in Xerox's President's Club, an exclusive ring of salespeople who had exceeded their annual quotas. The next year, he was the No. 1 salesman in the Cincinnati office.
Mr. Raftery continued playing soccer, moving from a semi-pro team in Dayton to the professional Cincinnati Riverhawks of the United Soccer League.
Then Sept. 11 happened.
"It wasn't an immediate thing; it wasn't a matter of watching the twin towers go down and immediately wanting to run out and take revenge," Mr. Raftery says. "But it was something that evolved in my head over a period of time."
About a month after the attacks, he was having lunch with a friend from Columbus when she stunned him by saying she was thinking of giving up her job and joining the Navy.
"That really floored me," he says. "It got me thinking about my own life."
He began doing a mental balance sheet on that life: Young, single, good job, making good money. Good prospects for the future.
"But I couldn't get over the idea that I owed something to my country," he says.
So, in the fall of 2001, he contacted a Navy recruiter and made the commitment. Since he had a college degree, he could enter the service as an officer after a stint at officers training school and go on to flight school to earn his wings as a Navy pilot.
But, in early 2002, he went home one night to his Hyde Park apartment and opened an envelope from the Navy. Inside was a letter rejecting him because he had a surgically repaired wrist from a soccer injury.
"It really took the wind out of me," Mr. Raftery says. "I was devastated."
But during a visit to his mother in St. Louis, she told him of a family friend who had a daughter in the Navy.
"It turned out she was an admiral, and she wrote a letter of recommendation for me," Mr. Raftery says.
A few months later, he received another letter from the Navy, congratulating him on being accepted into Officers' Training.
Now he is wrapping up his work and preparing to report to the training school in Pensacola, Fla., Saturday.
Xerox, he says, "has been great about it."
He will receive a four-week leave of absence with pay; after that, Xerox will pay the difference between his Navy salary and what he was making as a salesman for 18 months.
Once he earns his pilot's wings, he will be committed to active duty service for eight years.
And, he says, if he decides not to make a career in the Navy, he will have a job waiting when he gets back.
Mr. Raftery knows he is volunteering for military service in the middle of perilous times.
"I know that sooner or later, I am going to be stationed on an aircraft carrier," Mr. Raftery says. "And, at some point, I'm going to be in the Middle East. Maybe at war. But that's just part of the deal."
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