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Enlisting for Military Service

How To Make Adjustments When Your Teen Enlists in the Military

Beckie Romig believes her mother's death was a factor in her daughter's decision to join the Army. "Sarah and my mother were extremely close, and I' m sure my mom's death sort of pushed Sarah toward the final decision to get away," says Romig of State College, Pa. "At the time, I was pretty much numb and was trusting that this would be, in the long run, a good decision."

For her part, Sarah Romig believes her decision to enter the military right out of high school caught her family by surprise. "I didn't think about it for a long time, but they supported me the whole time," she says. Romig graduated from high school after September 11, 2001, yet she and dozens of her classmates and thousands of her peers decided to skip the "safe" route of going to college or entering into a trade. Instead, they joined the military, despite the looming threat of war.

What About College?

"I think most parents now feel it isn't necessary to serve and would rather see their teenagers go to college," says Alice Davis of Phoenix, Ariz., whose own three sons joined the military straight out of high school. However, as much as parents may want to see their children get a college degree, not every 17- or 18-year-old is mentally or emotionally ready for higher education.

"The military offers a viable alternative to young people," says Steve Manuel, who joined the Marine Corps at age 17 and spent 28 years on active duty. "The military is an excellent training ground. It's an education that goes far beyond a college degree."

Be Prepared

This is a frightening time for a parent to learn that their teenager has decided to enlist. Young soldiers face the possibility of going to war, just as Sarah Romig has. However, even without conflict looming, parents do have to make adjustments to their child's new lifestyle. Luckily, they will get some help.

For high school students entering the Navy, for example, the recruiter acts as a mentor for enlistees and their parents. "You want everyone aware of what is going on," says *Lloyd, a former recruiter who asked that his full name not be used. "When a recruit arrives at the recruit training center, they immediately get a phone call home to let Mom and Dad know that they're OK. Parents probably won't hear much from them for quite a while after that. Then comes the hair cut. A urinalysis for drug use is given almost immediately, and then an initial issue of toiletries and physicals and all the paperwork that tells the Navy you exist. Then the training starts."

Passing Into Adulthood

Of course, joining the military is unlike any other adult rite of passage a teenager takes. Parents will need to adjust to not having their child home for long periods of time, particularly at the holidays. And, as Manuel says, "The most obvious negative is the likelihood of the service member being killed in combat operations. The fact of the matter is, the military suffers many injuries and deaths during training operations." No parent wants that knock on the door, giving them bad news, but if your child is joining the military, parents need to be mentally prepared for whatever happens.

Still, there are many positives that outweigh the negatives to military life. "It's a steady job that provides for my family," says Lloyd. "I'll retire at 37 with a medical plan and half pay that will allow me to do a lot of things I wanted to do."

"The military is excellent training ground," says Manuel. "There are many high-tech positions within the military that young men and women can serve in, and that includes free education and training in fields that they will be able to take with them when they return to the civilian workforce. Service members are given an opportunity to see how other parts of the world live, and in many cases, live in another culture."

For Davis, another part of the world was California. "When I enlisted, never in a million years would I have figured I would get the posting I wanted to California," she says. "My life long dream had been to go to California, and I actually got to do it."

Romig sees nothing but Army life being a positive experience for her daughter. "Sarah has gained so much self-confidence and poise," she says. "She can easily adapt to many different situations. It's also been a great lesson in dealing with people. The Army is all about living in close quarters with people from all stages and walks of life. Acceptance, respect and conflict resolution are part of each day's experience."

Nothing but Support

When a teenager announces that he or she is going to enlist right out of college, the most important thing the teen needs is his or her parents' support. "Although you are scared and worried, try to keep in mind that they are in a hard situation," Sarah Romig says. "It's hard for us to be out there if we have to worry about our family being concerned about us. We need to know that they support our decisions, and that we are doing what needs to be done." And she has one other piece of advice. "Write to your children," she says. "As long as we know that we aren't being forgotten about out there, it makes it a lot easier for us to do our job and keep our spirits up."

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