Westmont Magazine A Call to Duty
When Mike Friel ’99 got a call from a Marine recruiter the summer after he graduated from high school, he started thinking about a military career. “It was exactly what I thought I wanted and needed for my life: challenge and the kind of training and experience that would help me develop as a believer and an individual,” he recalls.
Mike enlisted in the reserves and went to boot camp the summer after his freshman year at Westmont. As a college student, he reported for duty one weekend a month. “Since I was the most junior Marine, I did all the menial tasks,” he says. “It taught me a lesson in humility. Knowing what it’s like to be at the bottom was a tough but important experience.”
After graduating from Westmont, Mike received his commission as an officer. “It’s what God called me to do,” he says. “Discipline, leadership and serving my country were important to me.”
Once he completed Officers Basic Course, Mike got additional training in public affairs. As a communication studies major, he loved it. “It had everything to do with my major,” he says. “I taught rhetoric for a day and discussed how rhetorical theory relates to public affairs. I learned how to think strategically about publicity.”
For six months, Mike served as a recruit training commander, overseeing the drill instructors who trained recruits. Supervising older, more experienced Marines challenged and stretched him.
Three days before his platoon graduated, Sept. 11 happened. “The focus shifted immediately,” Mike recalls. “The training was no longer theoretical, but real. Graduation was very emotional.”
Mike then served as the deputy director of public affairs at the San Diego recruiting depot until he was assigned to an operations unit in June 2003. Within weeks, he was deployed to Baghdad. By this time he was a captain, but he filled a billet for a major. For six months, he accompanied media representatives on day trips in the area. One of his tasks was preparing Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez for press conferences and anticipating reporters’ questions.
“Spending time with veteran journalists like John Burns of The New York Times was an amazing experience,” he says. “My job was to help reporters understand the Iraqi security forces and what the coalition was doing to train and equip them.”
When one of his bosses left early, Mike became the spokesman for the Coalition Joint Task Force, a position usually held by a colonel. “This was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. He spoke regularly with well-known representatives from international news outlets and wrote speeches for Gen. Sanchez.
Gathering and disseminating information in the midst of low-intensity warfare required all Mike’s training and creativity. Iraqi leaders and security forces fell under frequent attack, and the coalition forces faced water and electricity shortages and intermittent phone service. Even the supposedly secure area where Mike lived suffered occasional attacks; a suicide bomber killed 20 people at the gate where he often met reporters. While conditions improved with time, Mike never ceased being vigilant.
Now back in San Diego, Mike will leave active duty in July to embrace a new challenge: a position in media relations. “It was a tough decision; I have loved being a Marine,” he says. “I appreciate the many opportunities to develop my leadership skills.”