Wake up at 0400 hours and get the ammo.
Not the usual routine for a Brookline graduate, but when Army National Guard Specialist Myke Pierre-Louis, BHS ‘08, was deployed in Afghanistan, this was how he started his days.
At Brookline, few students go into the military after graduation. The few who do often deal with skepticism and have to navigate a decision that is off the beaten path.
According to retired Marine Corps Sergeant Sam Dillon, BHS ‘05, only two or three students from the school enlist in the military each year, compared to 30 or more from other high schools of comparable size. He said that few students know about the military at the school because recruiters rarely visit.
Guidance counselor Clifton Jones said that students are surprised when a fellow student has an interest in the military, and that fear drives attitudes regarding the military.
He said that the military encounters resistance to recruiting at the high school.
“In more affluent communities, families are against the military coming in and doing presentations,” Jones said. “For the Marines, it is difficult for them to come in. And that is why we think we have less and less kids.”
Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason said that military recruiting at the high school is treated like college recruiting and that recruiters can come in on a set date and set up a table.
Jones said he thinks adults are the most nervous about the military. He said they fear that joining the military is a death sentence.
Senior Colby Ko, who will be a freshman next year at the United States Naval Academy, said that the attitude in Brookline definitely discourages some people who might do very well in the military.
He said that pressure from fellow students and teachers is so strong that people considering joining the military avoid talking about it.
“There is never really an opportunity,” Ko said. “Even if you bring it up, they say, ‘Oh yeah, you will be such a badass,’ and then it goes away.”
As a result, Ko kept his thoughts about going to the Naval Academy quiet freshman through junior year.
“Frankly, not many people want to know, and when I tell them, I generally have to explain stuff,” Ko said.
Ko said that people in other parts of the country outside the northeast, such as Texas and California, do not have to stay under cover. Their friends and family are supportive and may also serve.
According to Dillon, the misconceptions about the military common among people in Brookline are the same ones held throughout the nation. He said a huge misconception is that the military turns people into robots, and that they must do whatever they are told.
“In the Marine Corps, one of the first things that I learned was you are not a robot,” Dillon said. “We expect you to think on your feet and to interpret, adapt, and react to the situation.”
Furthermore, he added, people wrongly believe that people join the military to kill others.
“I didn’t join the Marine Corps to kill people,” Dillon said. “I joined the Marine Corps to save lives. That is the driving force behind anybody who ever puts the uniform on.”
Dillon said that those who serve receive an education and learn a trade, such as how to be an electrician or a truck driver.
Retired Marine Corps Private William Fishkin ‘06 said that some students at the school think going into the military is a waste of life, an easy alternative to going to college. He said that this is not the case.
“Eighteen, 19-year-olds are tasked with defending an entire country and being asked to do things that most people couldn’t even think of doing,” Fishkin said.
Jones said the graduates who served loved being in the military and had no regrets about joining. Nevertheless, some fears people have about the military have a basis in fact. Jones said a few of the students who have come back to visit the high school after serving in the military have post-traumatic stress disorder or are wounded.
There is also a danger of dying.
“Honestly, I would trade all my badges, my medals, and my ribbons for friends that I have lost overseas,” Pierre-Louis said.
Jones said that motivations for joining vary widely based on the person, and may include family tradition, the desire for a structured environment or economic incentives; the military will help pay for college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Dean Diane Lande said that many people join because they feel tremendous patriotism. For Dillon, the Sept. 11 attacks were the driving force for his enlistment. Marine Corps Private First Class Daniel Bohling, BHS ‘10, said that in school he was learning about the war in Afghanistan, and he realized he did not want to sit idly by while others were fighting.
Those who decide to explore a military option find that one can enlist, entering at the lowest rank, or begin with officer training, entering at a higher rank.
People can go through Officer Candidate School after college, or they can combine college and officer training by doing either Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or going to a military academy.
Military academies offer a full academic program. According to the Naval Academy’s website, their students receive tuition, room and board, plus a salary. ROTC typically offers fewer financial incentives.
Charlotte Falletta, an Army ROTC cadet at Harvard University, decided to go to Harvard instead of a military academy because she knew that she could go to a regular school and still get a military education. She said the time commitment for ROTC is no more than that for a sport, yet it gives her a much more diverse set of experiences.
Falletta said that her Harvard friends outside ROTC are not sleeping out in the woods when it is 35 degrees out, learning land navigation and putting needles in a dummy’s arm to learn how to give an IV.
Another option is to serve in the military and then get help paying for college paid from the GI Bill. According to Jones, many graduates from the school go to college after serving.
Both Pierre-Louis and Dillon are getting military support to pay for college.
Dillon said that the decision to join the military is huge, and one not to be taken lightly. He said that those who are still deciding about whether or not to join need to do their research and be really committed if they are going to say yes.
“There is a very strong likelihood that there is going to come a time, and place where the lives of the people around you are going to depend on you, and if you are not there by your own free will, you are going to let some people down,” Dillon said. “It’s not an easy decision to make. If you really want to join, and the people around you doubt you and are telling you no, be true to yourself. Speak to your recruiters. Speak to your family and your close friends. More importantly, seek out someone who has served; find someone like me.”
Bohling said that those who are unsure about the decision now can always wait.
“Go another path. Go to school because you can always join the military. You don’t have to be right out of high school,” Bohling said.
Dillon said that one should be matter-of-fact in discussing a military option.
“I didn’t treat it like I was doing anything radical or off the wall,” Dillon said. “My approach to it was: Some people go to college and some people go out and get a job. I wanted to serve my country, and I wanted to be a United States Marine. There were some people who had some negative comments, had some things to say here and there, but you are going to face that with every decision that you make in life.”
According to Lande, there should be more recognition for those who choose to serve in the military.
“Whatever somebody may think about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, we know to honor our soldiers,” Lande said. “I think that in a community like this, we want to honor the people who want to go and serve. I feel strongly that the military is an option, a dignified option, for people for whom it is right.”
Rebecca Segal can be contacted at [email protected]