Soldiers_9.11_mjp, SIUC students answer Uncle Sam’s call of duty

By Gus Bode

Nick Schneigert’s Naval status was bumped from reservist to active duty just weeks after terrorists attacked America. He was one of the quick-timers called to serve his country in the dawning days of Sept. 11 and he answered that call, although the decision was more Uncle Sam’s than his.

Schneigert didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to leave his friends and his family back home. He didn’t want to take a one-year leave from SIUC. He joined the Naval reserves his sophomore year so he could earn some cash to pay those pricy college bills. He didn’t expect Sept. 11 to happen, but really, who did?

He was sitting in a radio-television class when he realized the impact those crumbling towers and downed American airlines would have on his life in the coming days.


“I’m sitting there like “oh my God! I think I might get called up. I was shocked. I figured I wouldn’t get called up, you know,” said Schneigert, who is now back at SIUC after spending nearly a year overseas.

He describes the first few weeks of his tour in the Middle East as hostile and frightening. He said there would be days when he was sitting at his post and people would drive by in cars yelling “Death to America, Death to Israel, Military go home.”

The ironic part was that going home was exactly what he wanted to do.

“It got to a point where we were just waiting for the actives to take our place,” he said. “We just wanted to go home so bad.”

Schneigert was one of 31 SIUC students that withdrew in fall 2001 because of military activation, according to Carrie Andrews, coordinator for Transitional Programs.

Former SIUC track pole-vaulter Krista Best was another one of those students.

She also wasn’t expecting to get called up after securing her life back in Murphysboro, where she grew up. She had to leave her husband that she met while on active duty in the Navy and their son who is now five years old.


When she received the call that her military commitment was going from one weekend a month to full-time, her world was thrown into orbit.

She is part of Schneigert’s unit that was called up Sept. 27 and she also expected to be shipped to Bahrain in Southwest Asia.

It was one of those things she realized was a possibility when she joined the reserves, but didn’t really expect to happen. It’s been since the Gulf War that such a large number of reservists have been called up to active duty.

She joined the Navy after high school to explore the world and grow up before coming back to SIUC to earn a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Management. She joined the reserves to remain involved in the military to a lesser degree and for the extra pocket cash it provided.

And like Schneigert and almost everyone else in America, she didn’t expect Sept. 11.

But at some point she came to terms with what it meant to be a reservist and make a commitment to serve America in times of crisis. The days coined post-Sept. 11 meant a different life for Best.

“At some point you just come to terms with the fact that it’s reality and you’re going,” Best said.

Minor medical complications kept her from the journey overseas and she spent nine months in Millington, Tenn., processing paperwork for reservists called back into active duty. It wasn’t the work that was so tough or the fear of America’s new “War on Terrorism” in which she found her self handily involved – the hardest part was the new reality that she was only a visitor in her own home.

Best was one of the lucky ones that could travel home for the majority of the weekends while she was serving active duty about 200 miles from Carbondale. Her son, however, didn’t understand why she would leave every Sunday.

“At first it was no big deal, and then it was anger,” Best said. “It was almost like I was a visitor in my own home. We just kinda’ had to get used to it. We really didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

Her younger sister, also a student at SIUC, substituted as mother to little Brandon while Best was away. And when she returned, it was hard for him to adjust. Even now, when she just goes to the grocery store he asks whether she will be coming back home.

While the journey for Schneigert and Best was tough, being torn in just two weeks from the things most familiar to serve in a war that was anything but certain, it did lend its rewards.

“I met a lot of different people from all over the United States,” Best said.

She helped process paperwork for more than 900 Naval reservists called up in the United States. She is considering becoming a Naval Officer after graduation.

Schneigert said his tour overseas gave him a new appreciation for life.

“It changed my life dramatically because it taught me a lot of things,” he said. “It taught me how to respect life; it taught me about other people.”

He carriers that appreciation back to Carbondale and he doesn’t want people to forget the sacrifice reservists made for their country. Whether you’re having a beer in Pinch Penny’s Beer garden or in class in Faner Hall his one request is that you don’t forget.

“Think about them in the back of your mind, you know. Because if it wasn’t for them, this country would not be what this country is right now. I come back and I just see that the United States lost its focus on what is going on in the Middle East. All I’m saying is don’t forget. Don’t forget about the reservists and also the active duty soldiers out there in the Middle East because they’re still there. They’re still fighting. They’re still dying.”

Reporter Molly Parker can be reached at [email protected]