Once a week, three seniors from Whiteland Community High School check in with recruiters from the Navy and Marine Corps and account for how they’ve been spending their days.
Austin Stanley has enlisted in the Marines, and Heather Tinkle and Marcus Mattingly have joined the Navy. The three will leave for boot camp this summer, and they’re no longer considered civilians. Their recruiters want to be sure that they’re on track to graduate, and that they’ll be in shape when they arrive for basic training. So each week the three seniors check in about their classes and join other recruits for a workout.
Stanley, Tinkle and Mattingly knew by the time they were in middle school they wanted to join the armed forces. Stanley and Mattingly both have relatives who have served, and both are considering staying in the military for 20 to 30 years — Stanley as a member of the infantry, Mattingly as air rescue swimmer. Tinkle, who will become a corpsman — a Navy medic — hopes the military will help her pay for college and medical school.
“It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, was serve my country,” Stanley said.
Decades ago, high school students might’ve been able to join the military if they had no other college and career options, but that’s no longer the case.
As the armed forces regroup from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military officials are reassessing the qualities needed to make dependable soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, Army/National Guard recruiting battalion Sgt. Maj. Ricky Weber said.
Young adults who haven’t completed high school or who have been convicted for alcohol or drug offenses aren’t necessarily the kinds of people who can operate technical equipment or handle the stress of battle, and they won’t likely be allowed to enlist, Weber said.
“The choices you make will determine whether or not you’re eligible,” Weber said.
In Indiana, the National Guard routinely enlists about 1,900 new recruits each year, but recruitment goals can vary for the other branches of the armed forces depending on whether the U.S. is preparing for, in the middle of or exiting a war.
Last year, 5,800 Indiana residents enlisted for the first time, and that number has been falling about 3 percent per year for the last several years, Weber said.
Part of the reason the number is dropping is military officials know more about what type of person is the ideal recruit.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have closed, officials have studied which members of the military conducted themselves well, and whether there were any pre-existing conditions with those who were injured physically, or who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, Weber said.
The military doesn’t want to put someone who’s out of shape, or who has a history of drug and alcohol problems, on the battlefield, where he’ll have a greater chance of being injured, Weber said.
Officials also want to be sure the recruits have the technical skills necessary to succeed in areas such as cryptography and medicine, Weber said.
Potential recruits who have been convicted of an alcohol-related crime have to go through psychological evaluations to see if they’re at risk for other problems if they join the military. Anyone convicted of drug use isn’t eligible to join, Weber said.
People who dropped out of high school and then earned a high school equivalency diploma such as a GED certificate can join, but the military has a cap on the number of non-high school graduates who can enlist. Right now, at least 91 percent of Indiana’s new recruits must have graduated from high school, Weber said.
“You’re only going to be as strong as your weakest link,” Weber said.
Stanley, Tinkle and Mattingly knew after they decided to join the military that they couldn’t expect to sign up and ship out.
Tinkle knew that medical careers in the Navy are very competitive, and that she would have to compete against other sailors who also wanted to become corpsmen.
That’s why she’s earning her EMT certification from the Central Nine Career Center, and she plans to graduate with a technical honors diploma.
Stanley and Mattingly will graduate this spring with Core 40 diplomas, the most common diploma earned by Indiana’s high school graduates.
Both know it’s important to meet the academic standards set by the Navy and Marines, but they’ll learn most of what they need to know after they arrive at boot camp, they said.
“I plan on swimming to save people. There’s not much academics involved when you’re trying to be the hero of a plane,” Mattingly said.