Contemplating his future, senior Steven Grayson proudly looked at himself in the mirror and admired his JROTC uniform. He had made his decision to serve his country and join the U.S. Army following graduation.
“July 13 I leave for Fort Benning, Georgia, to go to Army basic training. I’m going to be an 11 Bravo infantryman. I currently have an option for a contract to go to airborne school right after I graduate from basic training,” Grayson said. “After that, I’m going to try to go into the 75th Ranger Regiment, and hopefully at some point I can do the Army’s Green to Gold program, go to college and become an officer.”
The Green to Gold Program is a program that allows enlisted soldiers who have served at least two years of active duty to receive scholarships to return to college for a few years on leave. The program also allows officers to earn a commission.
Once in the program, soldiers are discharged from active duty and then enlisted in the Army Reserve. While the majority of high school graduates go on to college or into the workforce, some, such as Grayson, make the choice to serve their country. Though they are aware of the emotional strain they may put on their loved ones, they believe they have a duty to fulfill.
Grayson would like to become an Army Ranger. Ranger school is known for its strenuous training and has been described as “the best trained soldiers in the world,” according to the U.S. Army, and Grayson is aware he has no easy journey ahead of him.
“Some of my family members have been in the Army. I just want to do what I feel is right and serve my country,” Grayson said.
When Grayson informed his parents of his decision, they had mixed feelings. Like any parents, they had some concerns, but they realized it was ultimately their son’s choice and they are proud of him.
“At first my mom was a little upset because no mother really wants her son to do something like that, but in the end they’ve all been supportive and want me to do what I feel like I need to do,” Grayson said. “They’ve been very encouraging.”
Another West student going into the military is senior Joseph Bridges, who leaves July 13 for U.S. Navy basic training in Chicago and submarine school in Connecticut.
“I decided I wanted to join the Navy when I was having dinner with my uncle. He was telling stories about the Navy and his experiences being a commander. That was a defining moment for me,” Bridges said. “I always felt that I would be a good fit for the military.”
Like Grayson’s family, Bridges’ family stands behind him and his decision to join the military.
“My family supports me. We are a close family, and they believe that I’ve made a good decision,” Bridges said. “I’m excited to start.”
Friends of Bridges also support his decision to join the Navy.
“My friends have said they’re happy for me, but that they’re going to miss me when I leave,” Bridges said.
Like Grayson and Bridges, senior Bailey Zeller will leave for basic training this summer. He has enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Zeller enlisted because of a long-time family connection to the Army. Three out of four of his brothers and his father have served in the military.
“One of my brothers just finished officer training, and the other just finished up a tour of duty in Egypt,” Zeller said.
Zeller will leave July 21. “I will be attending basic training at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, and then go for auxiliary intelligence training at Fort Huachuca,” Zeller said. “I hope to become a human intelligence officer (HIT). The HIT officers interrogate terrorists after they have been detained.”
Zeller said after the military, he hopes to go to college and then maybe get a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. He feels the training he received through West’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and on the wrestling team will help him in the Army.
“I’m worried about leaving, but I can’t wait to go,” Zeller said. “I will miss my friends and family, but I’m glad to be done with school.”
There are many reasons why a student would want to join the military, including benefits, family traditions and personal values. Some benefits include job security and college funding opportunities.
In addition, high school students who have participated in their school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program can enter the military with a higher pay grade than those who did not participate in JROTC. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Lytle believes joining can be beneficial for anyone.
“I think joining gives people a better foundation for life,” Lytle said. “They start off with a better outlook on life and have many opportunities to become generally more successful in life. I think the military helps any individual that joins. It just helps them with gaining more life skills.”
By Sarah Wentzel