The military experience

Written by: Michael Hager | Freelancer

Very few people know you can serve your country while getting your degree, and good old Uncle Sam will cover your tuition. I joined the Oregon Army National Guard four years ago when I was a junior in high school, with the intent to go to college and pursue a degree. 

Like a lot of people, my family could not afford to send me to college. One of my high school coaches was a Master Sergeant in the Army and also led the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — JROTC — program at my school. He told me how the National Guard would pay my tuition, and there I was, 16 years old, with a decision to make.

I always kinda wanted to be in the military — my grandpa was a World War II veteran, my uncle was a veteran and one of my cousins was already in the Guard. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school, but my parents wanted me to go to college. I ended up choosing the best of both worlds. 

I met with a recruiter and he explained that once I turned 17, all I would need was my parents’ consent, and I could join the National Guard on a six-year contract. This would cover my last two years of high school and four years of college at any school in Oregon I could get into. 

After trying to convince my parents, almost exactly a month before the pandemic, I signed a six-year contract with the Oregon Army National Guard. I was able to have an older cousin swear me in, which was pretty cool. 

I was sent into the process of split training: Basic Training one summer and Advanced Individual Training — AIT — the next, instead of the normal One Station Unit Training — OSUT — that everyone else would do. This meant that I would go to Basic Combat Training in the summer between my junior and senior years, at the height of the pandemic.

My Basic was supposed to only be 10 weeks but, since it was in the height of the pandemic, we had to quarantine in our barracks for two weeks. I was sent to stay with 40 strangers and the only time we were allowed outside was to get our food. Once we were all clear, we began training 

10 weeks later. A few weeks before my senior year started, we graduated from Basic Combat Training. I completed my senior year through Zoom in 2021, and I officially graduated from both high school and Basic. By that time, I had a good idea of where my unit was going to be, and I knew I wanted to be close to my unit while I went to college. That is why I chose Western: my unit is located in Salem. 

After graduation, I was all set to come to Western in the Fall of 2021, and I went back to complete AIT with all the same people I did basic with, plus another company who also did the same as us. 

At first, it was hell. We had all gone back to high school and lost all our discipline, so the first week or so was Basic all over again. 

Eventually, we completed AIT, and we were officially Military Police Officers, which was our Military Occupational Specialty. A couple of weeks before I graduated, myself and two others were told that once we went home, we were being sent to the border by former Governor Kate Brown. The state governor is the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard. 

The plans I had of attending college in the fall were over, and I was on a year-long mission. In October of 2021, instead of getting ready for my freshman year of college, I was sent on my mission, but it wasn’t to the border. Much worse, I was sent to the middle of Indiana in the winter to help process and protect the Afghan refugees that President Joe Biden sent over. 

There were around 20,000 refugees who needed to become citizens, and we were projected to be on this tiny base with nothing but a Subway and a cafeteria 10 times worse than Valsetz. 

Luckily, we were able to go home six months later in the middle of what would’ve been the spring term of my freshman year. I was able to register for the following fall semester, which puts me one year behind my peers. 

I started going to Drill, which is where we meet up one weekend a month and train for different things. I started school and continued to go to drill once a month, and then I joined the Men’s Rugby Club. 

My drill schedule interferes with matches and tournaments, but I can work it out with my coaches, and I’m still playing. Drill, for the most part, doesn’t affect my school work except during finals week. 

As a student in the military, I also have access to the Veterans’ Resource Center on campus, which connects me to other military students and resources I can use. On Veterans’ Day, they hold different events I can participate in; one such event is the annual 5K Ruck ‘n Run, which I won last year. 

This is my journey through the military, and it varies for everyone across the branches.  All in all, the National Guard is a great way to make connections, gain experience and get college paid for.

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