JERICHO, Vt. — Max Rooney’s journey into military service wasn’t a predestined path but a response to a national tragedy that reshaped his life trajectory.

“My grandfather was a WWII Veteran, my father was a Vietnam Veteran. I never thought I’d be interested in joining the military,” Rooney, a First Sergeant in the Vermont Army National Guard, explained. He had enjoyed a successful civilian career as a welder at an IBM facility for much of his twenties.

The turning point came when news of the towers falling on 9/11 reached him at work. “It was a lot for everybody to absorb. After discussing things with my wife, I determined I wanted to talk to a recruiter and never looked back really,” Rooney recalled.

Following this pivotal moment, Rooney, a Fairfax native, redirected his life to serve in Vermont, his home state. “After 9/11, I didn’t want my generation to be the generation that didn’t stand up and volunteer,” he said, reflecting on his decision, supported by his wife and children.

Transitioning into military life presented challenges, especially being older in basic training. “A lot of day-to-day challenges of being a soldier were less impactful on me because I had opportunities, like learning how to do my own laundry,” Rooney remarked.

What began as a few years of service burgeoned into a 20-plus-year career. Looking back, Rooney acknowledged his growth: “If I could look back and talk to my 26-year-old self that enlisted, I would say you did the right thing, you did a good job, and you had an amazing career.”

Rooney’s career took him to Iraq and Ukraine, where amidst the demanding tasks, one moment stood out — a simple act of giving a soccer ball to Iraqi children. “That soccer ball meant the world to those kids. Just a little thing that meant a lot to these people,” he shared, highlighting the rewarding aspects of his service.

Reflecting on the intrinsic value of his role, Rooney emphasized the importance of connections forged: “My job does have value, and what I do actually does have meaning, does have a purpose.”

For Rooney, the journey was about pride in following his family’s legacy and answering the call to serve the nation. Each day, as he shaves his face and dons a clean uniform, he finds purpose in the connections made and the impact of his service.