May 18 will always be a date Kelly McHugh remembers.
Her father, Col. John M. McHugh, died on that day in 2010, the victim of suicide car bomber. McHugh was one of 18 people killed on the way to a NATO peace conference in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Three years later to the day, Kelly, 22, graduated with a journalism degree from Kansas State University in Manhattan.
In an online assignment for one of her classes, McHugh wrote a story called “A daughter’s story: The reality of being an Army kid.” In the story, she memorialized her father, who commanded the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth.
“I can let my dad’s death hold me back or I can use it as motivation to move forward,” Kelly wrote.
The Kansas State Collegian, The Kansas City Star and The Manhattan Mercury picked up the story. It is available to view on the website homefront-transitions.com under “Gold Star Children.”
On Aug. 1, Kelly was honored in a ceremony at the McHugh Training Center at Townsend Hall, the MCTP training facility named for her father. A replica of the May 14 Kansas City Star story will hang on the wall as a reminder to all who train there about her father’s dedication as a father, friend and Army soldier.
“When I read your article I was very moved, and I know everybody in the room who read your article was very moved,” Brig. Gen. Mike Lundy, deputy commanding general for Combined Arms Center-Training, told Kelly at the ceremony attended by MCTP soldiers.
Describing McHugh as a friend who was an enthusiastic, inspirational and dedicated trainer, Lundy said he also had a great impact on the Army.
“It’s very appropriate that this building is named after him because it honors exactly what he did for our Army, which is train our leadership, train our soldiers,” Lundy said. “Those who personally knew him were touched by him, but those who really didn’t know him … benefited by his expertise.”
He said MCTP touches every unit in the Army.
“That is phenomenal and your dad was part of that,” Lundy told Kelly. “He lives on in this building, he’s part of the symbolism in the building and more importantly, he lives in all of us.”
Kelly, who now writes feature stories for K-State Athletics K-State Sports Extra, thanked the soldiers in attendance.
“I think this is great,” she said.
Later, she said she had attended many events honoring her dad.
Page 2 of 2 - “But this one is really, really special,” she said. “It means the world to me. When they said they were going to do the ceremony, I was really humbled by it. I wrote the story from my heart, and I’ve been so touched by this.”
She said being raised in the Army with her four siblings was an amazing experience. She said her oldest brother, Michael, a chief warrant officer at Fort Riley, is getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.
“I would never trade my childhood for anything,” she said. “In every Army post I’ve known, it’s just a close-knit family. Just driving through the gates of Fort Leavenworth this morning, I felt I was home.”
Lundy said after the ceremony that the McHugh family is important to the Army.
“I’m glad we were able to recognize John’s service and the sacrifice the family has made,” he said.