Alumna Has Told Stories of Military Courage for Three Decades
By Brian Hiro
Amy Forsythe doesn’t fit the traditional definition of historian.
She didn’t major in history as a student at Cal State San Marcos in the mid-2000s (her degree was in communication). She doesn’t teach history or speak at history conferences or write about historical eras or figures.
Yet there Forsythe was last March, on stage at San Diego State’s Joan B. Kroc Theatre, being inducted into the San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame with six other trailblazing women. Her category: historian.
The honor was one that first surprised her, since she has served as a military journalist in two branches of the U.S. armed forces for three decades. Upon reflection, though, as she sat on the stage, it overwhelmed her to be recognized for documenting the stories of service members and their families for so many years, most notably on five combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Sharing the courage it takes to wear a uniform and fight and risk everything is a great source of pride for me,” Forsythe said. “I was very honored to be a part of that wonderful, diverse group, and being considered a historian takes it to another level I never even imagined.”
Forsythe is nearing the end of her decorated military career, but she’s not done sharing stories of valor. In May 2022, she self-published a book titled “Heroes Live Here: A Tribute to Camp Pendleton Marines Since 9/11.” It takes readers on a journey through the vast training base in Oceanside – where Forsythe served as an enlisted Marine for almost six years leading up to Sept. 11 and where she still works as a civilian public affairs officer – and provides insights behind more than a dozen tributes and monuments on base that pay homage to brave Marines.
In her research for the book, Forsythe learned that more Marines from Camp Pendleton were killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars than from any other base or station in the United States.
“That was a really heavy burden for the community of Oceanside and North County,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people know the legacy of this base that marked its 80th anniversary last year, so I wanted to shine a light on that.”
Last spring, Forsythe visited the Special Collections department of the CSUSM library to contribute a signed copy of her book (anyone can purchase their own inscribed copy by going to heroeslivehere.com). It was just one of several recent examples of her becoming reconnected with her alma mater. Those include meetings with campus and Veterans Services leadership, a speaking gig for the College of Business Administration series “In the Executive’s Chair” and a role as emcee when the San Diego Military Advisory Council gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to Maj. Gen. Tony Jackson, the former chair of CSUSM’s Foundation Board.
“In the past, I tried to attend one alumni event a year, but then I realized that there are more opportunities for partnerships,” Forsythe said. “I like finding ways to make connection points and trying to be the glue between Camp Pendleton and the university.”
A Santa Rosa native, Forsythe enlisted in the Marines in 1993, five years after she finished high school. She received just the assignment she was seeking by being dispatched to Defense Information School, the U.S. Department of Defense’s version of journalism school, where she learned all aspects of being a public affairs professional in the military – from print, broadcast and radio journalism to community engagement and media relations. After initially being stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she got orders to go to Camp Pendleton in 1995. Over the next several years, she wore multiple hats, including content producer for the base TV show and reporter for the base newspaper, the Scout.
Forsythe left active duty in 2000 to enroll at Palomar College, but everything about her planned life path changed the following year after 9/11 happened. Though she managed to complete her higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree from CSUSM in 2005 and a master’s in global leadership from the University of San Diego in 2009, her status as a combat correspondent came to be dominated by three tours of duty in Afghanistan and two in Iraq over a period of 16 years.
As a staff sergeant who gave herself the title of visual information chief, Forsythe led a staff of troops whose task was to collect video footage, interview Marines and assist the media in their reporting. In 2006, for example, she was in charge of the satellite dish that would be transported to Iraqi war zones like Fallujah and Ramadi and be used to connect military leaders with news outlets in America, or to link Marines with the TV stations in their hometowns.
It was a great experience for Forsythe, knowing that she was helping to craft the narrative that was being beamed back to the U.S. But it was also a profoundly dangerous one. In December 2006, Megan McClung, a public affairs officer and Forsythe’s boss at the time, was killed when the Humvee in which she was escorting journalists around Ramadi was blown up by an IED. McClung became the first female Marine Corps officer to die in combat during the Iraq War.
“I wasn't on the convoy that she was with, but we had been at the same camp,” Forsythe said. “It could have been me, it could have been any one of us. Her death really changed the dynamic, especially about women and public affairs. It's not just the infantry who’s at risk anymore. It's not just young, enlisted combat troops. It's everybody.”
After another deployment to the exact same location in 2008, Forsythe left the Marines and accepted an officer commission in the Navy Reserve. (“It was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I love the Marine Corps, but the opportunities in the Navy are so much wider.”) With the Navy, she was sent to Afghanistan two more times, but she also went to such diverse places as Romania (where she met her husband), Poland, Germany, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Guam. For her final stint in the Middle East, in 2018, she served as the public affairs officer for an Army Special Forces (think Rangers and Green Berets) task force that was charged with training and doing missions with Afghan commandos.
“That was a great mission, the height of anything I could have asked for,” she said. “It was surreal for me.”
Throughout her illustrious career, whether on dusty battlefields thousands of miles from home or the relative safety of Camp Pendleton, Forsythe has been guided by wisdom best summarized by a colonel she worked under at the peak of the fighting in Iraq in 2006. When communicating to the public about what’s happening in the military, he said, don’t focus on the technology or the equipment or the weapons.
Focus on the bravery.
“It's pretty scary to step foot in Iraq and Afghanistan, not knowing what's going to happen,” Forsythe said. “It takes a bit of courage that other people don't have, so zero in on those aspects of storytelling. When I’m at a loss for what's unique about a story, I remind myself to find and share the courage. People can relate to that.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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