Megan Welter: Meet the Iraq War veteran turned Arizona Cardinals cheerleader

megan-welter-iraq-war-vet-arizona-cardinals.jpgSometimes pro-football cheerleaders can find themselves the topic of derision. One unlikely to ever find herself in that situation? Megan Welter.

Welter isn't your typical cheerleader, you see. The 28-year-old member of the Arizona Cardinals squad isn't all frills -- she's a United States Army veteran who put in time as a platoon leader in Iraq.

True, she has a history in dance that began when the cheerleader was three in baby ballet classes, but after her college graduation in 2007, she set aside thoughts of a dance career. "The war was going on at the time when I graduated college," she tells ABC15. "I wanted to take a job that was going to be meaningful, so I decided to join the Army."

After completing basic training, Welter enrolled in Officer Training School. "I was commissioned a second lieutenant at the end of April in 2007," she explains. "And from there I became cable platoon leader and I deployed a month later from Henning Air Force base to my unit to Iraq."

Welter, a third generation soldier, knew that officer training would give her a "100 percent chance" of being sent to Iraq. "I thought it was the right thing to do," she told azardinals.com in 2012. "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." At only 23, she was in charge of maintaining the communications network for the largest base in Iraq. "It was definitely a sink-or-swim type of experience."

So what led Welter to cheerleading? During her 16-month tour, another NFL team came to Iraq with their cheer squad to entertain the troops. "I remember talking to them, getting information, seeing if it was even a possibility," she says. After returning home, it took her three seasons to find the courage to audition for the Cardinals, but she finally went for it in 2011.

With seven years between her college dancing days and her audition, she's now one of the oldest women on the team. "It's just been such an amazing experience, and to be at this age and still be able to do this," Welter says, "and to do it ... taking such a long break, it's been really exciting."

When not cheering at games on Sundays, Welter still serves as an Army reservist. She counts hearing the National Anthem and seeing a huge American flag unfurled across the field as one of the highlights of each game. "When you see the flag, it means a lot, you know, because our country has given us so many freedoms, and to be a part of fighting for that and maintaining that, it, it means a lot. So yes, it gives me goosebumps, I can't help it."
Photo/Video credit: Arizona Cardinals