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Filling the Ranks

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jason Bowns
November 2, 2017

High school’s senior year is rife with choices.

We ask the inevitable question: “Where do we go from here?” The paths are endless, and that uncertain resolve leads us towards uncharted lands. J.R.R. Tolkien sagely wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost…” Sometimes, the journey itself is the destination.

Teachers and guidance counselors exist to facilitate growth; our families are there, too. Some seniors decide to find a job and work, saving up money while figuring it all out.

Then, there’s the college option. Cost is an inevitable factor, and location weighs in someplace. Do you stay local, attending a more affordable state school, or leap into a distant Ivy League?

The District of Columbia beckons for those interested in government. According to some, it’s a tough city to break into without having an internship to test those waters first. A congressional staffer once told me, “Washington just isn’t like other cities.”

Photo Credit: Destination DC

Federal service has other paths forward. For example, some may wish to join one of our five American military branches. The U.S. Marine Corps theme of “Semper Fidelis” even has its own stirring march by John Philip Sousa; it’s Latin for “Always Faithful.” The U.S. Coast Guard asserts, “Semper Paratus,” meaning “Always Ready.”

The U.S. Air Force urges, “Aim High…Fly-Fight-Win.” The U.S. Navy declares, “Semper Fortis,” or “Always Brave.” The U.S. Army reassures us, “This We’ll Defend.” We all must make our choices. Not many people know this, but I almost enlisted.

Growing up in Connecticut, there was an army recruiter in town who was soon retiring. I’d done pretty well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and was open to hearing what he had to say. One night, he visited my parents’ house to speak.

Photo Credit: The Norwich Bulletin

I was pondering college and drawn by the military benefits. The recruiter suggested that with my scores, I could become a military intelligence officer. The prospect of using my skills to advance the national security of the United States sounded important, but I wasn’t completely sure if it was for me. There was a minimum time commitment of five years which was the time when I could complete my undergraduate degree. I had some deep soul-searching to do.

At our last conversation, the recruiter said, “I want to get as many good people as I can to sign up before I retire. The door is open, Jay, and the porch light is on. You just need to walk inside.”

Those next months were a blur. My top college choice, New York University, accepted me. My family didn’t have a lot of money though. I had to decide whether to attend a more affordable school or leave rural Connecticut for another extreme, embracing America’s largest city.

I took the NYU admission offer. My heart was set on that school for some reason, and my parents reluctantly assented. That’s when their financial worries began to weigh heavily upon me. I thought that maybe I could find a way to pay for it on my own.

So, I reached out to the local army recruitment center again only to learn that my contact had already retired and was replaced by a younger officer who had recently returned to the area.

I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d watched the high school senior awards night where I’d been recognized. Days later, I asked him about enlisting and was leaning towards it.

He didn’t present the eager porch light scenario presented by his predecessor however. “You won a lot of awards, and you’re going to do well with what you have,” was his response to me.

Some classmates did enlist; they seem to be thriving. They remain active today, having amassed numerous service medals. A few have completed tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.

One young recruit enlisted in January 2003, a few years after his own high school years ended. He was an English teacher’s son. U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Hoskins died in Ramadi, Iraq when his unit was attacked on June 21, 2005 during combat operations. He was a few years younger than me, but I knew him. His mother, Claudia Hoskins, recalled, “He didn’t have to go, but he went… He enjoyed being a soldier, and he died doing what he loved to do.”

Photo Credit: Arlington Cemetery

Heroes like Christopher deeply believed in the mission at hand and their soldier role. The Killingly Town Council has since honored him with a memorial tree and plaque in Davis Park.

I don’t regret going off to college right away instead of enlisting. Maybe that recruiter saw something that I couldn’t see for myself then, that I’d have a different path ahead. Rather than focusing on an enlistment quota, he saw me as a whole person and knew I’d already made plans for New York. Recruitment is more of a delicate art rather than a blind exercise.

Five-star general George Marshall said, “When a thing is done, it’s done. Don’t look back. Look forward to your next objective.” After graduation, I guess that’s what I did.

Author: Reared in rural Connecticut, Jason Bowns earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University, majoring in Classical Civilization and Hellenic Studies while minoring in Politics and Social Studies Education. He earned his Master of Public Administration degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, honing essential skills to detect organizational fraud, waste, and abuse. He’s reachable at [email protected].

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