West Point to Willamette

by University Communications,

Jonathan Brooks enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in July 2001 — just two months before 9/11. Brooks and his fellow cadets became the subject of widespread media attention — National Geographic photographed them during basic training, and when they finished in 2005 with a coincidental 911 graduates, Time magazine dubbed them “The Class of 9/11.”

Two years after graduating, Brooks deployed for 15 months as part of the surge during the Iraq War. He spent most of that time leading an Army platoon in Baghdad. After his deployment, he completed more military schooling as a captain and returned to the Puget Sound area, where he had grown up, to teach ROTC for two years at the University of Washington.

In 2013, his service obligation complete and his wife and two children at home, Brooks left active duty to make use of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. He enrolled in Willamette’s MBA for Professionals program in Portland.

But his civilian career was short-lived. This past February, he received an offer to work as an active guard reservist in the Oregon National Guard. The 33-year-old, now a major, plans to finish out 20 years of service in the Guard.

“I was in chemistry class at West Point when the [World Trade Center] towers fell, and it was an interesting moment — a lot of people were like, ‘I’m outta here. I don’t want to do this. This is real.’ But it really bolstered my time there and made it that much more meaningful.

I made the decision when I was 4 that I wanted to serve my country. Several men in my family are West Pointers. I remember visiting West Point as a kid — it’s a larger-than-life kind of place where everything is gothic and it looks like a castle — and I thought, ‘Wow, one day I want to do this.'

I knew I’d been given so much in life, and I wanted to do something bigger than myself. I believe in this country and the freedoms we’re so privileged to have, and it’s important to continue to protect that, not only for myself and people currently around me, but for future generations. It’s worth fighting for.

When I was in Iraq, I was in two IED [improvised explosive device] attacks. I didn’t wear glasses until after my deployment — I got blown up a couple of times and hit my head, and it changed my vision. I also had two mild traumatic brain injuries, so I had to go through physical therapy and rehab. My wife is a nurse, and she helped me a lot through that process. It’s been hard work, but now I’ve recovered.

Occasionally I have to go straight to class from work in my uniform. My cohort used to be like, ‘Whoa, there’s a military person here.’ There’s still a little bit of that stigma. When you want to be in a collaborative environment of sharing ideas, sometimes the uniform can intimidate people.

One of my classmates told me, ‘I used to think people in the military were uneducated, and I wondered why they would want to join. It’s been neat getting to know you. You seem to be a person who cares, and you’re trying to make the world a better place.’ He had a change of heart about the military. I appreciated him saying that.”