A young man in high school who chooses to sign up for military service does not make that decision lightly. It might seem that way to the parents, and indeed the teen, in the optimism of youth, does not dwell on the issues of war and death. Instead the youngster recognizes that he needs the discipline of the military. He knows he will ultimately reap the key benefit of joining the military. Basically it is time to grow up, mature, see the world, meet a variety of people, and gain skills that are useful for the young man’s future. Military recruitment in high school does put a bit of the hard sell on impressionable youth. However, until the kid signs on the dotted line, fortunately he is free to explore all options.
This article is meant to help those parents who are arguing, debating, or supporting (with reservations) a child facing his high school graduation choice. I, as a parent, am writing based on experiences with young men. In my opinion, a young lady who chooses the military is probably knowledgeable about her choice, and also faces a far deeper challenge than I address in this article.
So, as a parent, your little boy has become an insufferable teen. He is smart and yet not working to his potential. He exhibits lousy study skills and a lack of educational motivation. You and he have been aiming towards college. Yet, you recognize that your hard earned dollars will be wasted on his education at this juncture. He is restless and ready to leave the nest, but lacks the necessary skills to do much more than deliver pizzas. Deep down, he knows he is not ready to be on his own, but he is not sure what to do. He needs time. This is not a failing on your part or his. He needs a boost to his motivation, his self-esteem – a sense of purpose.
This is where the military recruiter does his job. Recruiters are constantly at high schools looking for your son and others like him. The recruiter’s presentation will hit a nerve, and soon your son mentions he has an appointment after school “just to talk”. Do not jump to conclusions at this time. Do not leap with joy, or in turn be negative depending on your mindset. Calmly, say it sounds like a good idea and that you would like to know how the meeting goes. Basically, you and your teen need to be a solid team as he goes through the process.
The recruiter paints a picture of cool uniforms, fast equipment, super technology, and a future education. This is all true. But, here is where, you the parent, do your job to mix the glow with reality. If your son is ready to sign up, have the recruiter come to the house to clarify the sell points. My husband and I dealt with the Marines. So much of your son’s future depends on his test scores. Make sure, he understands this. There is always war happening or looming. Recruitment tends to gloss over the ugly. Include the topic in your discussion.
Also, the recruiter promises the kids that they will get their military career choice. This is not true. Based on scores, your kid has a better chance of getting his job if he scores high. But it also depends on openings at the time. If the military feels a youngster exhibits a certain skill that they want (i.e. materials repair and handling), they will place him in that job slot no matter if the kid wants to be a journalist or pilot. The government is a large business, and new recruits are fresh product to be molded on one factory line or another.
Ultimately, it needs to be your son’s choice as to whether he joins. If he loses interest after all of the meetings, then it was not meant to be. He will have to re-explore the college or job situation. If he is still interested and does sign up, step up and support him all the way. Because it is his choice, he will make the effort to do well. He will surprise himself and you. Also, keep in mind that until he is on the bus or plane to boot camp, he is yours. If he starts getting paperwork that is far moved from the initial impression of job choices or locations, you can argue with the recruiter and get it corrected. Nothing is written in stone until boot camp.
With a military decision made and graduation looming, your student will become human. You will see the relief on your son’s face. He has a purpose and a goal, while a lot of his friends are sweating out college acceptance letters. The recruiting office holds physical fitness training sessions for the recruits. Encourage your son to attend these and to also do as much running as possible. We had two boys join the Marines. One did a lot of physical training prior to boot camp and was grateful he had made the effort. The other did not train, and he admitted boot camp was hard work. He was in the no-fat mess hall line too, and got very tired of eating chicken.
The magic day arrives and your son is picked up for boot camp. He is scared, but maintains a brave front. You are worried for him and yet proud. This is a huge step for the whole family. The first letter you get will be fairly robotic. These kids are sleep deprived and disoriented. Subsequent letters will indicate regret – “what the heck am I doing, this is awful”, anger – “I hate it here, I hate everyone”, and then will ultimately get past the homesickness – “some of the guys are cool. We finished first today and got to have a soda.” Your bald recruits are working hard every second of the day and they live for mail call. I know I got a thank you long after boot camp for writing boring, droning letters. Nonetheless, the kids crave a touch of home and are happy for a weather report.
The time flies by and boot camp graduation is phenomenal. The Marine facility at San Diego is lovely, and seeing these kids run and march in unison gives you chills. The ceremony and traditions are inspiring. Your teen now stands tall, says “Yes, Sir”, “No,Ma’am” like he means it, and exudes a new sense of self. Boot camp did not defeat him. He achieved something not many can imagine and he is well on his way. He is lean, fit, and has become a young adult.
The military is not for everyone. But for those who confidently make the choice, put in the effort, and set goals, it appears to be time well spent. I will say that from our experience, these kids are confident with their training and are ready to serve their country. Again, my impression from our young Marines is trust in their immediate superiors in their safekeeping. It is cliché and yet true that they do not want to lose anyone on their watch. Your boy does become a man and after his service time, he is ready to tackle college or find a full-time job. You, the parent, have done your job well, with the help of Uncle Sam.