FARMINGTON — The day after the Twin Towers crumbled, Jason McClelland met with a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter.

"On 9/11, I remember seeing on the news, the Twin Towers going down, and it made me mad," McClelland said. "I thought, 'How dare someone do that to us?' I'm young. I'm in shape. I might as well do something about it."

He didn't enlist that day. But Sept. 11, 2001, put McClelland on a trajectory to military service. Eventually, he would personally confront some of the nation's enemies.

"I knew at that point we were going to go to war. I didn't know where or how, but I knew we were going to war. I just felt completed that I needed to jump in," he said.

The 30-year-old U.S. Army sergeant is currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. He has completed two tours in the Middle East -- one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan.

The 2001 Piedra Vista High School graduate says he always talked about joining the military. Both of his grandfathers served during the Korean War. Photos of both men, dressed in their military uniforms, hang in the living room of his parent's home in Farmington.

After high school, McClelland attended Western New Mexico University in Silver City on a football scholarship before transferring to the University of New Mexico. He graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in physical education and health and started a year-and-a-half teaching gig at Albuquerque Academy.

And then he started looking "for something different."

Office work didn't suit him. He longed to be outdoors, operating as part of a team. So he moved home to Farmington and returned to his summer job working on an oil rig.

But roughnecking wasn't what McClelland wanted to do with the rest of his life.

He found himself back at the recruiters' office on Jan. 3, 2008. He talked to recruiters with four military branches before deciding on the Army.

After basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., he was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. That's where he met his wife, Carmen, via an online dating website.

In late 2009, he deployed to Iraq for 10 months. Stationed mostly in the northern part of the country, McClelland led three-men sniper teams on missions countering improvised explosive devices.

Eight months into his tour, while he was home on leave, McClelland watched his new infant daughter take her first breaths. Two days later, he was on a plane back to Iraq.

His second tour started May 1, 2012. This one felt different, McClelland said. For one thing, his wife was eight months pregnant with the couple's son. This time, McClelland knew he wouldn't be there for the birth.

He was also headed to a more dangerous location -- Afghanistan's Zhari District in Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban.

It lived up to its name.

"We were getting into fire fights every day with the Taliban," McClelland said.

His unit worked with village elders to rebuild parts of the city, much of which was still a Taliban stronghold. The atmosphere, he said, was nerve-wracking.

"You didn't know if you were going to step on an IED or get shot at," he said.

One day in August 2012, McClelland and about 80 soldiers lined up in formation for an executive officer's promotion ceremony.

Then they heard a single shot, followed by two bursts of machine-gun fire. As the bullets inched closer, the soldiers dove for cover. McClelland hid behind a metal storage container.

Within seconds, he organized a team of four of soldiers to advance on the gunman from the left flank.

When they were about 20 feet from him, the gunfire suddenly stopped. Another solider had shot the assailant, striking him in the face and chest.

The gunman turned out to be an Afghan National Army solider, a supposed ally the American troops had trained. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital and died in-flight, McClelland said.

Two soldiers were injured in the attack, including the officer scheduled to be promoted.

Other soldiers -- mostly the younger ones -- hid during the attack, McClelland said. That wasn't an option for him.

"It didn't really hit me until we left Afghanistan," he said of the incident, the closest call he had during two tours. "I look back and I think, 'You're an idiot for going after this guy.' But I had to do it or else a lot of people could have been injured. I saw the objective, and my training took over, and I just went for it."

When McClelland tells that story, he sticks to the facts: what happened, who was involved, how it ended. But his mother, Diane McClelland, sat quietly as her son told the story, wiping away a few tears. It's difficult narrative for her to hear.

While she's proud of her son, fear is ever-present. She's found a community of support in the Four Corners Blue Star Mothers, a service group for mothers with children in the military.

"It's terrifying, yet you're there for them. You support them. You go through a lot of emotions," she said.

Jason McClelland returned in January from Afghanistan. He's now looking to the future. He plans to move back to Farmington once his stint in the Army is up in spring 2014.

While job prospects for veterans are bleak, he's hoping to go back to working in the oil industry, maybe as a safety man.

He credits the military with teaching him discipline and helping him shift his priorities. His wife and two young children -- Thayne, 1, and MacKenzie, 3 -- come first, he said.

McClelland shrugs off any accolades for service. When the Four Corners Chapter of the American Red Cross recognized him for his heroism at a ceremony in June, McClelland said the attention made him feel "a little weird."

"To us, it's a job. It's what we do," he said.

Magdalena Wegrzyn is the city editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4632 and mwegrzyn@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaggieWegrzyn on Twitter.