The teenagers graduating this spring were still in diapers when terrorists attacked the United States September 11, 2001. Yet, many of the high school graduates are stepping up to join the military despite the ongoing "war against terror" and recent tensions in Syria and North Korea.
Graduation starts today at Hillsborough County public high schools. First in line is Newsome High School, southeast of Tampa in the suburban neighborhood of Fishhawk. As seniors cross the stage at the state fairgrounds to claim their diplomas – many are advancing to college, others moving directly into the workforce and still others are chosing military service.
WUSF talked with several JROTC graduating seniors from Newsome and Steinbrenner high schools about about their choice of a military life during these times of heightened tensions with North Korea, Syria and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Toddlers in a Time of Terrorism
"Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve been there since I was one," said Walter Wahle, 17. "So, it’s kind of just, I guess my generation’s war. Like in the 60s it was Vietnam. So, that’s just where it is today."
Wahle is enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, then heading to college, Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida, this fall after graduating from Newsome.
The military is the only life Wahle has known. His dad is a Marine who’s served in Iraq twice. And this summer, his father will be deploying to Kuwait while Wahle is in boot camp.
"People think that when you join the military you’re signing up to go fight and die" Wahle said. "Most people don’t fight in the military and they only die if they’re in harms’ way and today the number of casualties is so much lower than it has been in past wars and conflicts that people are going to serve, they’re not going to die."
War Through The Hollywood Lens
The 2005 movie Jarhead, a classic film that provides a deep look into a Marine's deployment during Desert Storm, is how Destini Rainey was introduced to the military. As a child, Rainey remembers playing military games with her cousin after seeing the film.
"When I watched Jarhead, you see the infantry men shooting people and all the violent graphics," Rainey said. "But now that I’ve matured, I don’t think that’s the scenario I’m going to be in. That’s kind of why I choose the Navy. They’re less combative than the Marines and Army. So. I’ll be more of the brains instead of the brawn."
Rainey is scheduled to report on Christmas Day to become a Navy aerographer’s mate. They track the weather and oceans.
"Personally, I hope that we do not go to war," Rainey said. "I have faith in the president and the other government officials that they make the right decision on what we do with North Korea and Syria. Not my place to say anything about it. So, just if we do go to war, then so be it."
A Family Military Tradition
The responsibility of war is what Nathan Egli, 18, thought about when he considered his chosen career. He’s headed off to college at Miami of Ohio on a Marine ROTC scholarship. He plans to become an officer, just like his father.
"I’ve realized that wanting to be a leader of Marines in the future is going to be a very difficult task because I’m in charge of multiple things, multiple responsibilities and including other men’s lives. That’s a very difficult thing to grasp because in the battlefield and just war in general, a lot of things can go wrong," Egli said.
The Steinbrenner High School graduate said his father, who retired from the Marines in March, supports his decision to follow him in the military and so does his mother.
That support was common among all of the graduates we talked to. One Army recruit said his mom encouraged him to join. Although she will miss him, she told him he’s doing something he needs to do.
Below are additional voices of young high school graduates who have chosen a military life. They were not part of the broadcast story. We invite you to listen to their thoughts on why they wanted to serve their country and protect all who live here.