Megan Welter, a cheerleader for the Arizona Cardinals, is more than just a dancer in one of the most competitive markets in sports— she's also an Army veteran that completed a 16-month tour in Iraq. For Welter, although the experience was harrowing, she felt it was simply the "right thing to do."
"Our country has given us so many freedoms," she told ABC15 during an interview. "To be a part of fighting for that and maintaining that means a lot. It gives me goosebumps."
Welter, 28, began her journey from veteran to NFL cheerleader at a young age. She was enrolled in ballet classes at only 3 years old, then went on to competitive dancing at 9 and a dance team in college. When she graduated in 2007, though, she felt she had to do something for the country, which was in the middle of the war in Iraq.
"The war was going on at the time when I graduated college," she explained. "I wanted to take a job that was going to meaningful, so I decided the Army."
After completing basic training, Welter decided on Officer Training School, which would give her a "100 percent chance" of going to Iraq, she said in a 2012 video profile for the Cardinals.
"I thought it was the right thing to do. I was deployed to Joint Base Belad which is about an hour north of Baghdad. At first, it was, it was scary you know, but … it's what I signed up to do. It was definitely a sink-or-swim type of experience," she said. Welter was responsible for maintaining communications for one of the largest Army bases in the country.
Welter completed her 16 months in Iraq and returned home, but her passion for dancing hadn't faded. She had taken a seven-year break from dancing, but built up the courage to audition for the Arizona Cardinals. Welter and 100 other young women made it to the finals, and she was selected into the exclusive ranks of the Cardinals' cheerleaders.
Now she serves in the Army reserves and cheers on Sundays.
"It's just been such an amazing experience, and to be at this age and still be able to do this," Welter said, as one of the oldest cheerleaders on the team. "Taking such a long break, it's been really exciting."