USU Medical Student Helps Build International Relationships through Sports

Uniformed Services University School of Medicine student Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin competed as a member of Team USA at the 14th CISM Women’s Military Soccer World Championship

Post-game celebrations following a win against the Germany team. Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin, a USU student, is pictured center. (Photo courtesy of ENS Megan McLaughlin)
Post-game celebrations following a win against the Germany team. Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin, a USU
student, is pictured center. (Photo courtesy of ENS Megan McLaughlin)

August 31, 2023 by Vivian Mason 

As she marched onto the soccer field for the opening ceremony, Uniformed Services University (USU) School of Medicine class of 2026 student Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin was filled with emotion, pride, and excitement to be competing at the 14th CISM Women’s Military Soccer World Championship. The event was held at the Sportpark De Westmaat in Bunschoten-Spakenburg, the Netherlands, June 27 through July 9.

“When flags from all the countries were raised, and the games were declared open,” says McLaughlin, “it was really inspiring to see all the different militaries together like that. Even though I still feel quite new to military life, I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my career.”

Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM), known more familiarly as the International Military Sports Council, is an international sports association that holds competitive sporting events, including the World Military Championships, for the armed forces of 140-member countries. CISM’s aim is to foster world peace between the various armed forces by giving teams the chance to develop bonds and lifelong friendships, as well as the opportunity to learn about their cultural similarities and differences.

In the CISM soccer tournament, team play is similar to the World Cup. This year, 11 teams competed: the United States, Ireland, Cameroon, Belgium, Canada, Republic of Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Tanzania, and Greece. More than 219 female athletes competed. 

McLaughlin has been playing soccer since kindergarten. Her father is a volleyball coach, and her mother is a soccer coach. Both of her younger sisters also play soccer. In fact, while she was in the Netherlands, her middle sister moved to Prague to play in a professional league there. 

“[My sister] is much better than I am,” McLaughlin laughs. “And my youngest sister is still in high school. She’s also quite skilled and will be better than the both of us, but we don’t tell her that.”

Ensign Megan McLaughlin doing pre-game warmups before game with Belgium. (Photo courtesy of ENS Megan McLaughlin)
Ensign Megan McLaughlin doing pre-game warmups before game with Belgium. (Photo courtesy of ENS
Megan McLaughlin)

When McLaughlin initially learned about the competition, she says she consulted with the School of Medicine Office for Student Affairs at USU to seek advice and guidance. 

“They were key in helping me figure out how I could compete, yet still get all of my USU studies and responsibilities done. Dr. [Ryan] Landoll was a big advocate for me along with the neurology and gastroenterology/hematology-oncology module directors, my military chain of command, and the office of the Professor of Military Science team who coordinated the summer operational experiences.”

McLaughlin admits that she was fortunate that the way the games fell close to the summer operational experience time was a “big aid in helping things work out so that I could do it.”

With the support of USU, she applied to Team USA and was among only 40 women chosen to try out at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. Athletes came from all branches of the armed forces, many of whom were stationed all over the world. Of the 40 U.S. players who tried out, only 20 made the team. McLaughlin was one of them. 

Right away, she made her plan. McLaughlin knew that she had to take finals on a different schedule than her classmates. She also had to wait until her return from the games to schedule her finals for the gastrointestinal module. 

“It was a lot,” McLaughlin admits. “Balancing school and training while on campus was tough, but missing a month of school wasn’t easy either.”

McLaughlin notes that it was precisely because of the cohesive and supportive environment on campus that USU was always her number one school choice, adding that her support system at the university is extremely strong and deep. 

“I love the team environment here,” McLaughlin says. “I wanted to be in a place where I was supported by my classmates. Having our Fire Team system built into the way that we operate is something that resonated with me and was immensely important. I feel as though I’m where I should be.”

She adds that the USU community was every bit as excited as her about the tournament, and incredibly encouraging. “Not only would people ask me about it when I was still on campus this spring, but they also continued sending texts and emails throughout the tournament saying, ‘Good luck! You got this! You can do this!’”

USU feels like a team environment with everyone working toward a common end. Any team, but especially USU, enables you to push yourself and to be better than what you thought you could be.

― Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin, class of 2026

Once McLaughlin was selected for Team USA, the team had five weeks after tryouts to train on their own before going to a pre-tournament prep camp for 10 days.

“A couple of my classmates helped me train every day,” McLaughlin explains. “I continued going to Friday Footy hosted by the USU Soccer Club every Friday. I was also able to practice with a high school boys’ team from Alexandria, Virginia, a few times per week leading up to the training camp and the games. Getting to train with that group was such a blessing because the boys pushed me to be as fit and as technical as possible going into the camp.” 

Once in the Netherlands, Team USA and all of the other teams were stationed at a hotel in Amsterdam that allowed them to share meals together, play games, and trade gear.

“The motto of the tournament was ‘friendship through sport,’” McLaughlin says. “The organizers of the tournament made it really easy to meet and interact with players from other countries. Even though we all spoke different languages, we managed to connect and really got to know one another by the end of our time there.”  

In the tournament, McLaughlin played as a midfielder. During the group stage, Team USA won its first game over Germany 3-1. In the second game, they lost to Cameroon 4-2. In the final group stage game, they defeated Belgium 4-0. Their loss to Cameroon put them in second place in their group, so they played in the bracket for fifth through eighth places. Following the group stage, Team USA defeated Greece 2-0 and Tanzania 5-4 in penalty kicks to earn fifth place overall. In the finals, the championship was won by the Republic of Korea, who defeated France 1-0. 

Even with the pressure of competition, McLaughlin smiles remembering when her teammates heard that she had missed the USU White Coat Ceremony because of soccer tryouts. She notes that the team doctor at the time was a USU alumnus who explained the significance of the ceremony to McLaughlin’s teammates.

Ensign Megan McLaughlin (right) in a game against the Cameroon team. (Photo courtesy of ENS Megan McLaughlin)
Ensign Megan McLaughlin (right) in a game against the Cameroon team. (Photo courtesy of ENS Megan

“Well, that Friday,” McLaughlin recalls, “when my USU classmates had their White Coat Ceremony on campus, my team surprised me with my own personalized White Coat Ceremony at the hotel. They draped white towels over my shoulders to represent my white coat, stuck a piece of athletic tape that read ‘Future Dr. McLaughlin’ on my ‘coat,’ and made me give a speech that wasn’t nearly as polished as Dr. [Robert] Liotta’s.”

Reflecting on the moment, McLaughlin sums up the experience through her gratitude. “It was really special to be with a group of such successful women in their own right, who were all so excited to help me celebrate this career milestone.”