Students becoming soldiers

For most graduating seniors, the anticipation of finishing high school comes with the excitement of beach trips in the summer and starting college in the fall. For others, a much different feeling of anticipation is brewing. Trading in their flip-flops for combat boots, many local teenagers are making the decision to commit the next few years of their life to their nation rather than to themselves.
Like most students who are expecting to receive a diploma in June, Newton-Conover High School senior Matthew Reilly can’t wait to graduate. Reilly’s excitement isn’t just about walking across the stage, though. Graduating high school means he’s one step closer to living his dream – enlisting in the United States Army.
“I’ve wanted to join the army my whole life,” Reilly said.
Reilly expects to travel to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in November, where he will complete 20 weeks of training to become a military police officer.
Wanting to be part of something bigger than him, Reilly hopes to have a career in the military.
Fred T. Foard High School senior Brooke Tupin couldn’t agree more with Reilly’s sentiments. Tupin is currently serving as battalion commander of her high school’s JROTC program and she said that she’s anxious to expand her involvement with the Army after she graduates in June.
If Tupin’s plans go as she hopes, she will also travel to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to start her training to become a military police officer this fall.
“I want to be able to join; I want to say that in a time of crisis, I served my country,” Tupin said. “I want to tell my grandkids a good story about how I did something more with my life.”
Senior Army instructor at Fred T. Foard Lt. Col. Steven Crowe is confident that Tupin will have success in the Army. Crowe goes far beyond the call of duty with his students; setting high expectations and helping his students meet them. Because of this, Tupin said she feels prepared to exit high school and make the transition into the Army.
“I can’t speak for other programs,” said Crowe, “but students who leave mine, I think it will be an easy transition. In addition to the curriculum, we go beyond, and we introduce them to what they’ll find in their training.”
While students who didn’t participate in a ROTC program can still enlist in the military, Crowe stressed that the program is ideal for those who want to join the military after high school. In addition, students who have no plans to enlist in the military are welcome to participate.
“Not only will students graduate with a knowledge of discipline, motivation and self sacrifice, not to mention how to wear a uniform, but students who complete at least two years of JROTC have the opportunity to enlist as a private first class instead of starting out with the lowest rank of private,” Crowe said.
Like many of his military-minded peers, Bandys High School senior Jake Westover wants to create an Army career. Eager to serve his country, Westover is waiting to get medical clearance before heading off to basic combat training.
“Every American should have a way to serve their country,” Westover said, “and this is my way to serve mine.”
The idea of serving the United States by joining the military goes beyond enlisting for some students. Bradley Turner, also a senior at Bandys High School, has intentions of joining the Army as an infantryman upon graduation, but his ambitions don’t stop there.
“I’d like to come back out (of the Army) and teach ROTC,” said Turner, “It’s a way to give back.”
Turner and Westover will graduate this spring and are waiting to learn their dates to begin training. Tupin is expecting to start her training on Aug. 1 at Fort Leonard Wood in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Reilly is preparing to start his training on Nov. 14 at the same post.