By Brian Marchetti
As Memorial Day approaches and we prepare for a long-awaited summer, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who sacrifice years of their lives to protect and defend our country through military service. Here are some of their stories.
Born and raised in Beverly/Morgan Park, Michael McAlinden wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in the FBI. When choosing the best path to that end, he decided to major in Business Management at Quincy University, where he played soccer, and committed to Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in 1998.
“I’m a patriot and I wanted to serve,” McAlinden said. “My grandfathers served… it was a calling for me.”
Before beginning his training in officer candidate school, McAlinden was diagnosed with Wolf Parkinson’s White Syndrome, a heart defect requiring minor surgery. After a successful second treatment, he went to train in Quantico, Va. as an Artillery Officer. After further training in Fort Sill, Okla. and 29 Palms, California he went on his first deployment with the 3rd Battalion 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in 2004 to Ramadi, Iraq.
“I was 24 and a platoon commander,” McAlinden said. “I was sort of the old guy, there’s a couple of sergeants but everyone else is 18 to 22. We were basically doing an infantry job, providing route security for convoys.”
Due to his unit’s mission, McAlinden traveled throughout the entire country, from Baghdad to the Saudi Arabian border.
“To me, it was a cool job,” McAlinden said, “As cool as a job in war can be. I got to see the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the cradle of civilization.”
In 2006, McAlinden returned to Chicago. On a fateful night in Lakeview, he posed as a bouncer at a bar. One of the young women he “carded,” Molly McGarry, recognized him.
“’Aren’t you Mike Mac?’ she said. After a few shots, the rest is history,” McAlinden said.
From 2006 to 2008, he worked for a company and managed 30 warehouses. All the lighting in the buildings had to be updated to LED and he thought the process was inefficient. He sensed a business opportunity but was called back to serve his country.
Sent to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan to face down a resurgent Taliban, McAlinden’s unit provided artillery assistance for infantry during the largest helicopter insertion since Vietnam.
During his down time, he worked on his business plan and looked forward to letters from Molly which came every day.
“When I got out, I had some money saved up,” McAlinden said. “I wanted to buy three things, an engagement ring, a place to live, and a car.”
Shortly after his return home, he founded Green Light National in 2010, a company that assists commercial and industrial spaces in their conversion to LED lighting, a more sustainable and cleaner form of energy that reduces energy consumption and emissions.
In October 2010, McAlinden and McGarry married. They currently reside in North Beverly with their three children, Rose and twins Thomas and Jack.
McAlinden believes his service not only provided him with valuable leadership skills, but enriched his life in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.
“I had so many great experiences,” McAlinden said. “Being in all those different cultures… it was something really cool and amazing that I did in my twenties, and it led me to starting this company and what I do now.”
Inspired by his grandfather, Frank Knoll, a World War II veteran awarded the Navy Cross, Matthew Lunkes always wanted to serve his country. September 11th happened during his freshman year in college, and he nearly dropped out to enlist. As the conflict grew in Iraq, Lunkes joined the Marine Corps in 2003.
“I thought if I didn’t join then I would miss an important time when my service would be needed,” Lunkes said. “Foolish in retrospect because no one knew the wars would last 20 years.”
He went through recruit training in San Diego and then School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“I really liked boot camp,” Lunkes said, “the physical stuff, the core values, work ethic, and the attention to detail are all things that have stuck with me and I’m greatly appreciative.”
In 2006, Lunkes went on his first deployment as a rifleman to Iraq with Alpha Company 25th Marines reserve unit out of Massachusetts. Sectarian violence had erupted throughout the country, one of the most intense periods of the war.
“Iraq was crazy, very kinetic,” Lunkes said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I was a goner a few times. But thinking about the big picture, I felt like the place was worth it. Iraq had infrastructure, high human capital, and the potential to be a strong prosperous country, it still does.”
After serving in Iraq, Lunkes attended Villanova University where he earned a degree in Economics. He then attended officer training school in Quantico, Va. becoming an intelligence officer. In 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan where he led a mentor training team embedded with the Afghan Border Police.
“I love the people,” Lunkes said of Afghanistan, “but they say it’s the graveyard of empires, and that’s kind of true. I don’t know what it needs to be successful. I was very close to the soldiers I mentored there, but there’s something about that place.”
After serving ten years and achieving the rank of Captain, Lunkes retired from the Marine Corps. While still in California, he met his wife Anne Walaszek, a native of Oak Lawn and a speech language pathologist with the VA Health Care system.
Though a native of Wilmette, Lunkes now resides in Beverly/Morgan Park with his wife and five children. He works for a technology company servicing the airline industry.
When reflecting on his service, Lunkes says he gained experiences that would have been impossible otherwise.
“I had something like 100 people under my charge,” Lunkes said. “It’s always been a huge benefit for my career and how I conduct things.”
Last year, Lunkes gave a Veteran’s Day speech where he connected the values of the Marine Corps to the Beverly/Morgan Park community.
“I see a dedication to service and devotion to others here, second only to the military,” Lunkes said. “Neighbors truly care about each other. There’s a sense of belonging in Beverly that just cannot be matched elsewhere.”
Morgan McGarry joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19 on May 22, 2000. His grandfather, James Toolis, served during World War II in the U.S. Army.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” McGarry said. “If I didn’t do it now, I thought, I’d end up regretting it.”
He went through basic training in Camp Pendleton, Calif. where he found the experience intense but rewarding.
“I was into it right away,” McGarry said.
After basic, McGarry became a Field Artillery Fire Control Marine. In this role, he was responsible for the performance, delivery, and transportation of artillery equipment. Out of all the roles presented to him, this appealed to him the most.
“It was a good experience,” McGarry said. “You’re taking calls from the observers through the gun lines and telling the cannons where to fire according to the observers.”
As the tragic events of September 11th unfolded and the United States found itself on the precipice of two long wars, McGarry didn’t feel a sense of foreboding but thought that his service would now have more significance. This is what he signed up for.
In 2003, McGarry deployed to Kuwait. There, he resupplied ships and convoys after the initial invasion of Baghdad. Outside of the experience of living in another country for several months, he made note of the tremendous heat.
“The temperature gets well over 100 degrees and the humidity…Kuwait is right next to the Persian Gulf so the humidity can get up to 90%,” McGarry said.
After his initial deployment, he returned to a reserve unit in Joliet. He soon met Meghan Guinane. In December 2005, he went on his second deployment, this time to Iraq.
“We were in Al Qaim, that was the western border next to Syria, just south of the Euphrates,” McGarry said. “It was pretty much the middle of nowhere.”
McGarry and his unit carried out detention operations. Prisoners came to them first to be processed. Then they were sent either to Baghdad or Abu Ghraib.
“It was interesting to get the prisoners’ perspectives on things,” McGarry said. “Some were good, others bad. Some were regular farmers and teachers that got caught up in the mix.”
In 2006, McGarry and Guinane married. They held their reception at then U.S. Cellular Field, now the unfortunately named Guaranteed Rate Field. They reside in Beverly/Morgan Park with their four children. McGarry works as a Chicago Firefighter, which he has done for the last ten years. In his spare time, he runs the McGarry Boxing Club, founded by his father, the late Martin McGarry.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” McGarry said when asked about his service. “I have no regrets.”
Downers Grove native Brent VanHootegem enlisted in the Marine Corps in early 2002, shortly after the events of September 11th.
“Joining the Marines was always in the back of my mind,” VanHootegem said. “September 11th pushed me.”
While pursuing his Finance degree at Illinois State University, VanHootegem attended boot camp over the summer and continued to train one weekend a month during the academic year. The following summer, he received combat training and Military Occupational Schooling as a Radio Field Operator.
In 2006, he was deployed to Al Qaim in the northwest area of Iraq near the Syrian border. Before his deployment, VanHootegem retrained to serve in a Military Police Unit.
“We ran a detention facility to hold detainees for the short term,” VanHootegem said. “It was an old train depot that had been converted into a military base.” VanHootegem and Morgan McGarry served together in the same unit.
He retired from the military in 2010 after serving for eight years and achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant. While still in the service, VanHootegem enrolled in John Marshall Law School. Readjusting as a full-time student proved difficult.
“I had to leave law school right in the middle of it, then I returned after leaving the military,” he said. “The hardest part about coming home was readjusting to academic life. That was a challenge.”
VanHootegem now works as an attorney for the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission. Prior to that, he served as an attorney for the Federal Department of Labor. He lives in Beverly/Morgan Park with his wife, Mary Kate Fennell, and their four children who all attend St. Barnabas School.
Like many former and current service men and women of the military, VanHootegem believes his time in the military not only benefitted his life due to the values instilled like hard work and discipline, but he experienced parts of the world many Americans will never see.
“Military life was a massive exposure and eye-opening experience,” VanHootegem said. “Growing up in a nice western suburb… then you get thrown into this mix. Not only are you working with people from all over the country, but you go into a war zone and see how life is there, how people get by on so little. It really changes your perspective on life.”
Patrick Tiereney always looked up to his older brother, Jim. When Jim, ten years Patrick’s senior, joined the Marine Corps, Patrick soon followed.
“I thought the Marines were the toughest of the services,” Tiereney said, “the biggest challenge.”
In 2001, while attending Northwestern University, Tiereney joined Naval ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps), while pursuing a degree in History.
“Throughout the school year I had military training and physical fitness requirements. The military will often pay for college in return for being an officer. That was part of my motivation,” Tiereney said.
In 2005, he graduated and officially joined the military. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and trained as an Artillery Officer.
“I thought it was a cool MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). You get to shoot cannons over long distances,” Tiereney said.
His first deployment came in 2007 with the Marine Expeditionary Unit, a force designed for rapid responses to hot spots throughout the world.
“It was a great deployment,” Tiereney said. “I got to see a lot of the world. We made port calls in Australia, Singapore, Djibouti … areas I never would have been able to see.”
When asked about his favorite destination, he didn’t hesitate when saying Hobart, Tasmania.
“We had a fun time there. The city was nice, the people liked us.”
Tiereney’s next deployment took him to Iraq in 2009. Along with 12 other Marines, he worked in a Military Transition team that trained Iraqi soldiers to help them keep the country stable once U.S. Forces left.
“It’s a typical strategy against counter insurgency,” Tiereney said.
His final deployment led him to Afghanistan in 2014. As a Staff Officer, Tiereney oversaw the draw down of forces and equipment after the December 2009 surge. He worked in the Afghan capital, Kabul and Bagram Air Force Base.
“Afghanistan was a very different deployment than Iraq,” Tiereney said. “In Iraq I was out in the field, embedded in the Iraqi army. In Kabul and the Air Force base we had access to computers and the internet. It had an office like feel.”
Tiereney eventually earned a master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University. He continues to serve in the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves. In civilian life, he works for the Government Accountability Office.
He lives in Beverly/Morgan Park along with his wife, Brie Girard, and their four children. They lived in Washington D.C. for a decade but decided that our community was a better place to raise children.
Unfortunately, his brother Jim passed away in July 2022 from cancer.
When asked about his career, Tiereney not only spoke about the fiscal benefits, having all of his undergraduate tuition and most of his post graduate studies paid for, he spoke about the virtues of discipline and perseverance.
The military teaches you valuable life lessons, how to be a good leader, how to handle difficult situations. “The Marine Corps has been great and I’ve been happy to do it, I’m happy to serve.”