For Mark Searles ’06, Sept. 11, 2001, hit close to home. The northern Virginia native was in his senior year of high school that day, and his father worked at the Pentagon.
“Up until that point, I thought I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and be a pilot … And after Sept. 11, 2001, I had a calling to go into the Army and to be with and lead soldiers,” Searles said. “Knowing what was in store for our country in the coming years, I wanted to be a part of that.”
The events of 9/11 would continue to shape his cadetship.
“I knew that I was going to be infantry,” he said. “And I knew that I was going to be going off to war. I remember at night in the barracks, we would hang sheets off the fourth stoop, and we would project the news.”
Watching those reports, he said, provided focus for him at the Institute. “We’re getting taught by instructors and teachers, some of whom had recently redeployed, and they’re giving us not just life lessons, but lessons to save other people’s lives and our soldiers’ lives,” he remembered.
During his time at VMI, Searles was appointed to the Honor Court, initially as an assistant prosecutor and eventually vice president his 1st Class year.
“Being appointed to the Honor Court was a huge honor for me early on,” he said. “I was shocked, but I was also very proud. I was also a little anxious because I knew that the Honor Code is the cornerstone of everything that we do at VMI.”
As part of the Honor Court, he noticed the attention VMI and the Honor Court received in the media in 2020-21.
“As someone who helped administer the Honor Code in the school, I can say that it is a fair system. And I’m very proud to have been on the Honor Court and be in the alumni of Honor Court members,” Searles said.
He took on another significant responsibility when he was named regimental commander his 1st Class year.
“Being the regimental commander was a job that could have been my only job, and that would have been enough,” Searles said with a chuckle. “But between that and being the Honor Court vice president, I certainly had my work cut out for me.”
After graduation, he went on to serve in the Army and still does. Looking back, he thinks back often to his VMI experience and what his four years taught him.
“VMI was the foundation for a lot of those things because you realize that you can do more than you think you can,” he said. “The endurance, not just physical endurance, but the mental endurance and the ability to persevere—that starts during the Rat Line.
“You can beat us down. You can wear us down. But you will never get us down.”
Christian Heilman Digital Content Manager
The digital content manager is responsible for creating original video and multimedia materials, as well as developing and editing web and digital content. The manager is responsible for platform coordination and troubleshooting, to include the VMI Alumni Agencies’ primary websites, digital newsletter and other digital platforms.