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Springer Journal: OK Graduates. What is next?

Posted April 27, 2005

— In a few weeks we will have tens of thousands of young men and women graduating from high schools across the country. A significant percentage of them will continue their education at the college or university level. Some of them will pursue focused education at our community colleges.

There are probably many others that would like to continue their education, but lack the financial resources to do so. There are also tens of thousands of these graduates who simply have no clue as to what is next on their career calendar. I have some advice for all of the graduates who will not be pursuing any further formal education. Their country needs them. America needs their talents, their enthusiasm, their ingenuity, their computer skills, their physical attributes and their motivation to seek a rewarding lifestyle.

As you may expect, my advice to these young Americans would be to visit an Armed Forces Recruiting Office. Not all would qualify for military service for a number of reasons. Some will not be physically qualified. Others may have a history of drug abuse that would disqualify them from serving. Some may not measure up as determined by aptitude tests. BUT, many would qualify and most of these would find a great reward in serving.

Set aside the platitudes of serving your country in a time of war. (Although there is much to be said for this, and much internal satisfaction from such service.) There is a great personal satisfaction that comes from learning a skill, developing interpersonal relationships, learning to lead (and follow), becoming a team player, recognizing the incredible attributes of being disciplined in thought and action, and, oh yes, having a paycheck twice a month. There are also the advantages of lodging, meals, and, quite importantly, free medical attention when and if needed.

One of the most enticing features of military service is the opportunity to continue with formal education as well as the skills associated with the individuals specific job. I entered the United States Air Force after two years of college. I was able to complete my bachelors and masters degrees with George Washington University at night school right on my base. All major military installations provide that opportunity. In many cases there are two or more universities providing on base courses all year long. Tuition assistance is generally available to active duty members of the military. And, of course, there is also the GI Bill.

I fully appreciate the concerns associated with joining America's armed services during a period of war. There are risks. There are risks in any walk of life. Over the past two years we have witnessed nearly 1600 Americans killed by enemy insurgents in Iraq. During the same two years over 80,000 Americans died on our highways. We read, hear and see through the national and local media of each death in Iraq. Every single loss of life in combat is tragic and deserves our mourning and gratitude. I know the impact on the families of these fallen men and women. I have had the responsibility of passing the American flag to surviving members.

As a nation we should appreciate our overarching role in this troubled and terrorized world. No other nation has the wherewithal to pursue a global war on terror. We should never forget what happened in America on September 11, 2001. Our nation needs a singularly superior military force to defeat terrorism anywhere it poses a threat to our way of life. While many will quarrel with "why" we are in Iraq, it is difficult to quarrel objectively with the many successes that America and its coalition partners have achieved there over the past two years.

America needs America's youth to respond to the call of national service in the armed forces. I am convinced that many would if they fully appreciated the personal value of this service. It is equally important for those adults who have a primary influence on these young men and women to appreciate just how much the services have to offer in exchange for serving. Parents, teacher and the clergy have the greatest influence on maturing teenagers. I would encourage these folks to visit with a recruiter along with these members of the Class of 2005.

For those who do choose the military as an option upon graduating from high school, it is amazing to see what a transformation takes place in just a few weeks of basic training. We have parents and family members who go to the basic training graduations and have difficulty recognizing their loved ones. In only six or eight weeks they have become disciplined young adults with a respect for elders and authority. They stand taller. They walk straighter. There is no more slouching.

And they soon recognize that the "company" they now work for promotes based on merit. Their race, religion or ethnic background is irrelevant. Neither does it matter where they came from. I lived in a home for fatherless boys until I joined the United States Air Force. Nobody in the Air Force knew that and nobody cared. They cared about what I did and what kind of contribution I could make.

The military is clearly not for everyone. But for those "soon-to-be" high school graduates I would encourage them to at least give it a look. Drop by a recruiting office. It may only take a few minutes to learn that it isn't your cup of tea. It may also prove to be (as it was in my case) the most rewarding visit of your life.


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