JROTC Graduates Eager To Serve Despite Ongoing Conflicts

Jun 7, 2017

Family traditions and popular culture are among the things that motivate today's teenagers to join the armed forces.

This year's high school graduates were still in diapers on Sept. 11, 2001.  But that day's terrorist attacks - and the later wars in Afghanistan in Iraq - loomed over some of them when they made their decisions to enlist in the military.

"Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve been there since I was one," said Walter Wahle, a 17 year old graduate of Newsome High School southeast of Tampa. "So, it’s kind of just, I guess my generation’s war. Like in the 60's it was Vietnam."

Wahle is enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, then heading to college this fall. He's one of more than 300,000 teenagers in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs around the U.S.

17-year-old Walter Wahle plans to follow his father into the Marines.
Credit Bobbie O'Brien / American Homefront

Most JROTC students choose not to serve in the armed forces. But the military is the only life Wahle has known.  His dad is a Marine who’s served in Iraq twice.  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. "Today the number of casualties is so much lower than it has been in past wars and conflicts." 

"People are going to serve; they’re not going to die," he said.

War Through The Hollywood Lens

For some enlistees, popular culture was a strong factor in their decisions to serve. 

The 2005 movie Jarhead, which provides a deep look into a Marine's deployment during the 1990 Gulf War, is how 18-year-old Destini Rainey was introduced to the military. As a child, Rainey remembers playing military games with her cousin after seeing the film.

Destini Rainey chose to join the Navy because it's" less combative than the Marines and Army."
Credit Bobbie O'Brien / American Homefront

"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. She'll 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 career. He’s headed off to college at Miami of Ohio on a Marine ROTC scholarship. He plans to become an officer, like his father.

18-year-old Nathan Egli hopes to become a Marine officer.
Credit Bobbie O'Brien / American Homefront

"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 graduate of Steinbrenner High School near Tampa said his father, who retired from the Marines in March, supports his decision to follow him in the military. So does his mother.

That support was common among all of the graduates we talked with. One Army recruit said his mom encouraged him to join.  She told her son she'll miss him, but she believes he’s doing something he needs to do.

Listen to other teenagers share their thoughts as they enter the armed forces: