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From Student to Soldier: A Journey That Differs for Everyone Who Takes it

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Senior Grant Hughes finishes running a lap around the field. Recruits like Grant complete rigorous training to be eligible to serve.

Senior Grant Hughes finishes running a lap around the field. Recruits like Grant complete rigorous training to be eligible to serve.

Amanda Klein

Amanda Klein

Senior Grant Hughes finishes running a lap around the field. Recruits like Grant complete rigorous training to be eligible to serve.

Amanda Klein, Staff Writer

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Thump. Thump. Thump.

Step after step, shoes pound on the hard ground, as the thirty-something young recruits run another lap around the field. The wind blows strong around the group, tousling hair and twisting the imprint of the word “Marines” on their shirts, but their eyes are bright and eager. As the sun sets behind them, the sky fades from orange to pink to violet. A bellowing shout comes from the sergeant as he urges the recruits to push themselves harder. Throughout the exercises, recruits count off numbers in unison, speaking in one voice. In between sets of intense workouts, they take laps around the grassy field, running as fast as they can to make it under the time the sergeant calls out or risk the punishment of having to restart the session from the beginning. As the physical training session draws out, one recruit throws up in exhaustion and another steps out of the circle on the verge of collapsing. Most seniors are spending the end of the winter awaiting college admission decisions, hoping to find out what their futures may hold for them, but these young people already know what lies ahead. They come together every Monday and Thursday to push themselves to their limits because of the future they have chosen — a future in the military.

This choice can lead a person in many different directions, so the reasons behind a person’s decision to swear in varies. Some come from military families and are eager to carry on the tradition, some are searching for a way to get through college without student loans, and some are just on the hunt for a challenge, a change in pace of life. Whatever the reasoning behind it, this decision is a big one to make and it is important to be well prepared.

Senior Makennah Layng had been thinking about the military since her freshman year, but had not had much information on it before. As she learned more and more, her interest blossomed.

Amanda Klein
Senior Makennah Layng had been thinking about the military since her freshman year



“I always thought I was going to go into the military at some point, [but hadn’t really known] what it was all about before,” Layng said while proudly dressed in a sweatshirt with “Marines” imprinted on the front, “Once I started learning about it [my] freshman year, I thought … it would give me a lot of benefits to set myself up to succeed after high school and not be in debt with student loans to go to a four-year [college].”

She began to see it as a way to secure her future while doing some good with her life.

“The more I looked into [the military], the more I saw how it could help me and how I could also help others … and serve my country.”

Layng has had some relatives that served in the military, but this did not have a strong influence on her decision to join. Her eagerness comes more from a desire to see new places and learn new skills after the humdrum, mundane routine of high school.

“I think coming out of high school [and joining the military] will widen my horizons and allow me to travel a little bit and see the world while doing something that’s pretty cool and learning a skill and a trade in a different setting,” shared Layng, with an excited air about her.

The military’s five main branches are the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard. Layng is currently on the path to join the Marine Corps and has been training for some time. But her path has not been straightforward — she did not always know what she wanted to do.

“Right now, I am really looking into … the Marine Corps, I have been talking with the recruiters … and getting physically fit for it [through] preparing with them,” Layng explained enthusiastically, “ I knew I was going into the military one way or another it was just a matter of picking the branch.”

Layng noted that any branch would have given her the security she was looking for, but the Marine Corps provided her with a challenge.

“All of [the branches] would’ve given me the same financial stability and benefits I was looking for, but the Marine Corps was the one that allowed me to be physically fit and challenged me the most,” Layng said.

People join the military for a wide array of different reasons ranging from their personal interests to their future goals to their family history. Layng signed up in hopes of the military providing a stable and secure future for her, but in her research she found she has an interest in the intelligence sector of the military.

“My main goal of this is to be financially stable at some point … I’ve found that I want to do intelligence [through my research], but that’s not the main reason why I wanted to go military,” Layng said, “It was just a matter of setting myself up as a person and being reliant on myself rather than others.”

Layng is striving for a secure future so she can explore her options regarding what she wants to do after serving her time in the military because like the majority of teenagers, she does not have a clear plan of what she wants to do with her life.

“When I’m in my mid-twenties, or late-twenties, I [want to] have an idea of how I’m saving, or what I’m going to do, to set myself up for the future if I want to do something because right now I don’t know what I want to do … I’m still trying to figure it out and I want to do it the best way and save,” Layng said.

Students joining the military may not have to take the SAT or ACT, but that doesn’t mean they get to avoid testing completely. Currently, Layng is studying to get a better score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a test designed to determine if an applicant is ready to join the military, and what sort of jobs they may accel at.

“Right now, to qualify for some of the better jobs in intelligence I’m really looking at, I have to get my ASVAB scores up which is like the entrance exam [for the military] because you need a score in order to enlist and that score is based off all the categories and it says what jobs you qualify for,” Layng explained, “I was right under the intelligence jobs so I just have to score higher in that section and then I can pick my top three favorite [jobs].”

Aside from the ASVAB, recruits need to prepare physically for the endeavors ahead. With a grimace on her face, Layng alluded to the fact that the physical training is no easy feat. But the grimace turned to a smile as she reminded herself of the satisfaction that comes from achieving such a difficult goal and she gave words of courage to students struggling through the process.

“Training is intense. It really pushes you to the core of who you are but that’s what the Marine Corps is all about, it’s about stripping you down and building you back up and believing in yourself honestly, because you could look at all the cores of the marines and it’s all about just preparing yourself,” Layng said, “You do have to be dedicated and you do have to believe in yourself a lot, and don’t give up. It’s going to be hard, but you can get through it if you believe [you can].” 

Amanda Klein
The marine recruits gather together around the sergeant after their workout is over.



For students who want to learn more about what the military has to offer, Layng provided information on contacting a recruiter.

“Don’t be afraid, if you are genuinely curious talk to a recruiter … you can probably get their contact [information] through the school or [the] recruiting office off El Camino [Real], past the 78 [freeway],” Layng said, “They’re always going to be friendly, they’re always going to tell you what’s what and if it is something you are really interested in don’t give up on the idea.”

While Layng’s military goals line up with her future aspirations of financial success, senior Grant Hughes hopes to fulfill dreams of the past in his military career. He had not always known that he would live his childhood dreams of flying planes through the military, but now that he has decided to join the marines, he loves the path he fell into.

“I always had a dream of flying and I was thinking [about becoming a] commercial airline pilot, but I started looking into the Marine Corps and it just … caught my interest,” said Hughes, “And now that I’m all signed up and ready it’s something that I love and can’t wait to do.”

Hughes is the first of his family to enlist and, like Layng, he has chosen to go into the Marine Corps. This decision came as a result of the research he did on the Air Force. What he found did not resonate with him like the Marine Corps did, and his path changed once more.

“[I’m going into] the Marine Corp. I was thinking Air Force, and I was looking into it and only three percent actually fly and the rest are just [on] computers,” Hughes said, “Also the basic training for the Marine Corp is a lot harder than any other branch and I kind of wanted a challenge for myself.”

He will start out in reserves, helping pilots prepare for flight, but after a couple years, his childhood dream of flying will become a reality.

“I am going [in] as reserves, so it’s going to be air support operations. Which is helping out with… pilots, setting up, making sure all the launch stuff is ready,” Hughes said, “But after I get my four-year degree in reserves I’ll go back in as a pilot, a fighter-ship pilot.”

Hughes affirmed Layng’s description of the difficulty of the physical training sessions (PT), but this has not discouraged him. Instead, he looks forward to the hard work ahead.

“The training is intense. We have about four to five people every PT that throw up,” Hughes said, and despite the jarring picture he painted, a look of achievement was apparent on his face, “I’m anxious. I’m … really excited. I can’t wait for bootcamp.”

Amanda Klein
Senior Grant Hughes does push-ups with his fellow recruits.



In a plaza off of El Camino Real, two offices stand as uniformly as the men inside. Side-by-side, but not the same, each offers a different future for whoever walks inside. The Marine Corps recruitment center is on one side and the U.S. Army recruitment center is on the other. Seemingly plain on the outside, the insides of these buildings are bursting with energy, as officers clad in uniform talk to one another, ready to help those looking for information. In the Army recruitment center is Staff Sergeant Casusus, an officer who all the answers for the curious recruit.

Hughes and Layng both followed paths that were full of twists and turns. They explored different branches and learned all they could before settling on the one for them. Talking to a recruiter is one of the most efficient ways to find out more about the military and the branch that fits you best. Staff Sergeant Casusus, an army recruiter, agreed with this and also advised interested students to explore before they settle on a single branch.

“[If you are interested in the military come] in and [talk] to a recruiter,” said Casusus who was clad in the traditional olive camouflage that most army members wear, “Instead of just assuming that you want to go for one branch, shop around for all the branches to see which one best suits [your] personality.”

Recruiters are also equipped to answer all the questions a recruit may have. Casusus believes asking questions is an important part of the process of finding where you belong.

“We let every applicant that we have come and ask questions,”Casusus helpfully stated, “The more questions you have the easier it is for [you] to understand — the easier it is to help [you] mold whatever [you’re] trying to do to what the army is trying to offer.”


Layng and Hughes each had a unique reason for enlisting — a reason that lined up with their own future goals in life. But not everyone has a clear vision for their future. Staff Sergeant Casusus ended up enlisting because he did not know what he wanted to do and the military helped him find a career.

“The military is beneficial when it comes to helping pay for college as well as helping with hands-on training,” shared Casus as he remembered his entry into the army, “For instance like myself, I … went to SDSU and college wasn’t for me at that point in time and once I realized that I joined the army and the army was able to help me find exactly what I wanted to do for a college degree plan.”

“[The military provides] college benefits, career opportunities and [the possibility of] maturing as an individual,” Casusus finished.

The intense level of difficulty that comes with training for the military is something that may deter some people from joining.

“Training is difficult, for all branches, it’s going to be challenging,” Casusus articulated honestly.

Casusus encouraged those who are feeling the nerves, reminding them of the pride that is felt after doing something that seems impossible.

“You are going to have to reach deep inside yourself to push yourself harder than you probably ever thought you could push yourself, but once it’s all completed you usually come out with your head a little higher because you’ve done something that only one percent of the nation does,” Casusus stated with an earnest look on his face revealing how much he believes in the words he shared.

Many students may be on the fence about joining up the ranks. This is a big decision to make, so it is important for students to know what they are getting into and if it is right for them. For students who are hesitant, Casusus gave the advice of looking deep inside of you and discovering what is pulling you in toward the military and what is pushing you away.

“Ask yourself why you want to join. If you ask yourself why you want to join and that outweighs anything else then of course, join,” Casusus offered, “But I’ll say it like this for my brother who was on the fence. I told him it was one of those things that if you decide you want to do it, it’s a big decision.”

Amanda Klein
A recruit counts off as he goes through the work out.



Casusus’s guidance encourages interested students to jump right into the unchartered territory if they think it is something they really want to do.

“You just have to jump in and keep moving forward because the moment you start doubting yourself is the moment you’re already setting yourself up for failure,” Casusus assured.

Casusus’s outlook on pushing past the nerves is one that is pretty common in the military. At the end of the Marine Corp’s strenuous physical training sessions, the group gathers together as the sergeant yells “Bring it in!” The recruits are tired, but not without smiles as they know their hard work will pay off in bootcamp. The sergeant looks at them with pride and shares some words of encouragement before he dismisses them to go back to their lives as regular teenagers. They all come from different backgrounds, schools and communities, but they have one thing in common: a desire to serve their country.

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1 Comment

One Response to “From Student to Soldier: A Journey That Differs for Everyone Who Takes it”

  1. Lisa Hughes on March 28th, 2018 8:48 pm

    Amanda,
    Thank you for writing this piece on the military and the opportunities it has for young men and women that are possibly considering this career. It is not for everyone, you described the training well, the dedication and drive of those that enlist are driven to work hard and serve our country.
    Thanks for sharing their experience.

    Lisa Hughes

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From Student to Soldier: A Journey That Differs for Everyone Who Takes it