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6.1% of grads from area choose military

June 20, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER and JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Many recent high school graduates are leaving classes behind for beach trips and summer jobs, but some are making final arrangements to head to military basic training.

A Herald-Mail survey of schools in Franklin and Fulton counties revealed the area sends a higher percentage of graduates to military service than the state and national averages, which stand at about 2.5 percent and 3 percent, respectively. The average in Franklin and Fulton counties was 6.1 percent.

Reasons for enlisting in wartime differ as much as the backgrounds of each student, although many identified the service of family members as being a large part of the choice.

Dale Hummer and three of his friends from Waynesboro Area Senior High School are entering the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. Hummer said he's more excited than apprehensive.

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"My mom's side of the family is in the Army," Hummer said. "I didn't have to do it, but I want to do it for tradition."

Hummer, 18, starts basic training in early July and later will be based at Fort Gordon in Georgia. He will specialize in information technology.

"My mom is really happy for me that I'm doing something with my life," Hummer said.

He's been told he might be sent to the Middle East two years into his enlistment.

Waynesboro Area Senior High School guidance counselor Pam Shoap, who worked with the class of 2009, said announcements are posted when military recruiters visit the school. Students are able to schedule individual or group visits with the recruiters.

"The recruiters also come in and set up tables during lunch in the cafeteria, so it's open access," she said.

The Associated Press reported about 3 percent of all high school graduates will enlist in the military after graduation. A projected 3.3 million students will graduate high school in 2009, almost the same number as graduated in 2008, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman said.

Of those ages 17 to 19, in 2008, slightly less than 76,400 enlisted in the military, Department of Defense spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

Most men and women who enlist in the military with no prior service possess a high school diploma or GED, Lainez said. Yet those who go directly from high school into the military are younger than the average enlistee, who is 20 years old, she said.

That is because many enlistees take time off between high school and military service, Lainez said.

For Michael Dick of Doylesburg, Pa., taking the six months between graduating from Fannett-Metal Senior High School and leaving in January for U.S. Navy basic training is too long.

"I am ready to go now," he said.

Dick said he always wanted to be in the military, whether he was an airman or a sailor.

"My family has done it (served in the military) for generation after generation," he said. "My great-grandfather was a gunner's mate in the Navy."

He will follow in his great-grandfather's footsteps as a gunner's mate.

Some graduates have been dreaming of a life in uniform since they were young.

Joshua Miller, 19, of Chambersburg, Pa., said the military was always on his mind.

"I always thought that I was going to do it," Miller said, citing his father's service in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a big influence.

Miller was connected to his father, Master Sgt. Harold Miller, via video conference for the Chambersburg Area Senior High School graduation ceremony.

"It's my dad's second time in Iraq," Joshua Miller said. "I hardly ever get to talk to him."

Miller will spend eight and a half weeks in U.S. Air Force basic training, starting in mid-June in Texas.

The U.S. military consistently has made headlines since 2001 with questions of a draft, but Dick said there was enough going on in the world to motivate him to sign up voluntarily, even though he did not get his first choice of branch or job.

"I didn't have the score to go into the Air Force, and I didn't want to do Army or Marines, so I decided on the Navy," he said. Referencing recent violence in international waters, he added, "I want to go and kick some pirates' rears and show them what the Americans are made of."

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