She returned from Iraq to a broken family. Then writing changed her life.
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Megan Leavey

Kate Hoit always dreamed of joining the FBI. Then she was deployed to Iraq in 2004, and her life took a different turn.

"I was a 17-year-old girl from the suburbs, I was a cheerleader, shitty at math, and I was just really interested in being an FBI agent," she says. After three years in the Army Reserves, she received that unexpected phone call that she would actually be shipping off to war.

Her official assignment? Working for the resident newspaper on the base, covering a wide variety of topics, from the construction of water treatment facilities in local villages to reporting from the hospital as injured soldiers were airlifted in. She spoke with Iraqi civilians and Australian soldiers alike and witnessed everything from horrible injuries to opportunistic generals posing for press photos.


Hoit on deployment in Iraq. All photos by Kate Hoit, used with permission.

"During that time, I really fell in love with the power of storytelling and journalism and photography," Hoit says.

"It was really just a way to see the war at different levels in a way I never would have if I had just sat behind a computer all day," she continues. "So that impacted me on the ground, and I realized I could tell stories and focus on the more humanized aspects of that."

Hoit saw a lot of things during her year in Iraq, but what she didn't see was the effect her deployment had on her family back home.

Her father was a veteran, too. But his experience in West Germany in the early 1950s was nothing compared to the dangers of the Iraq War, and he worried immensely about the safety of his daughter. This lead to a relapse into alcoholism, and later he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

Soon her mother struggled with alcoholism, too. The family ended up losing Hoit's childhood home when her father was checked into a nursing home.

Hoit with her parents before her deployment.

Hoit returned to a very different life than the one she had left.

"I didn’t have anyone to turn to," she says. "My friends got it as best they could, [but] at the time, I was a little bit frustrated going through this whole experience: My family’s destroyed, kind of, and I can’t connect with anyone."

Hoit re-enrolled in college with a newly inspired interest in pursuing a journalism career, but the transition wasn't easy.

She was angry and isolated, and it only got worse — until one of her professors encouraged her to write about her experiences. As numerous psychological studies have shown, the act of storytelling can have a profound effect on traumatic healing.

Hoit discovered a new passion for the ways that storytelling can connect with the veteran experience. "I was like, oh, I have a community again," she says. "It helped with my transition because I didn’t feel as alienated when I started writing."

Then a few of her criticisms drew the attention of the Veterans Affairs department.

They caught the eye of now-Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who had just taken over as the VA's assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, and Hoit was soon recruited into the department's newly formed digital engagement team.

During her time with the team, Hoit launched the department's social media presence and also worked on several crucial public relations campaigns, including Veteran of the Day and Strong at the Broken Places, which aimed to break down stigmas around veterans and mental health.

Since then, Hoit has made a career of helping veterans tell their stories — and making sure the public hears them.

Hoit left her role at the VA and worked in a congressional communications role while she pursued a master's degree in non-fiction writing.

Since then, she's found a new home as director of content at Got Your 6, a nonprofit that works with the entertainment industry, veteran groups, and government organizations to normalize depictions of veterans in the media and empower veterans to build communities and tell their own stories.

And all the while, her mission has remained the same: "You can draw on an emotion or a struggle, and even if people are on the opposite side of the spectrum, you can make that connection with people. That’s my goal with content."

Among their many programs, Got Your 6 offers official certification for films and TV shows ranging from Marvel's "Daredevil" to "Megan Leavey" in recognition of their efforts to depict the veteran experience with greater accuracy and humanity.

"It can be a challenge when people only want to see veterans as broken with PTSD or as superheroes," Hoit explains. "They don’t want see the normalized, nuanced story."

Hoit and her colleagues from Got Your 6.

It's been more than a decade since Hoit returned from Iraq, and strangers still email to ask about her experience.

"I feel like, at the end of the day, if you’re helping people and making a difference, then you should use your voice for some greater good," she says. From what she's seen, most veterans are eager and willing to talk about their service and all the complications that come along with it. They just need someone to listen.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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