ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When a top U.S. military officer announced last Wednesday that the U.S. Army had exceeded its monthly recruiting goal in June, ending four straight months of shortfalls amid the Iraq war, few area households took note.
But for Alan and Michelle Goldsby of Hillsboro, the news hit home. Son Tyler, only six weeks past his high school graduation, is a product of that recruiting effort.
He will leave next week for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
Reports about increasing concern about U.S. military involvement in Iraq didn’t dissuade Tyler from an interest he’s had since childhood.
“I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the military and didn’t really want to do college right away,” he said about his reasons for signing up for active duty last August.
“And I kind of felt like I should (enlist), because if nobody else does, there won’t be anybody.”
Tyler and his parents will leave Hillsboro on Monday, July 11, for Kansas City, where they will spend the night in a motel room paid for by the Army.
Around 3 the next morning, Tyler will be given a physical, then join other recruits for the flight to Fort Benning, where he’ll begin 14 weeks of basic training and advanced individual training.
Having talked with others who have gone through the experience, Tyler said he has some idea what to expect at Fort Benning.
“I think the worst part for me will be the shots that you get-and then the gas chamber,” he said.
The gas chamber?
“They take you into a room and drop a tear-gas container, and you’ve got to breathe it in and experience it.
“Basic (training) doesn’t bother me too much. But I am kind of wondering where I’ll be stationed for the rest of the time.”
Tyler will find that out about two or three weeks before he graduates from his Fort Benning experience on Oct. 23.
“They give you an option (for placement), but it really doesn’t matter where I want to go,” Tyler said. “They’ll put you where they want you.”
Chances are high the Army will want him in Iraq at some point. Most of the U.S. ground troops in the Iraq war are Army, with the Marine Corps providing a lesser number.
That Tyler chose the infantry as his occupational speciality increases the likelihood of his deployment there.
“Being infantry, there’s a better chance than others to go,” he said.
What does he think of that possibility?
“I don’t know,” he said. “If I need to, I will. If that’s what I’m supposed to do, I’ll do it.”
Tyler said he agrees with President Bush that American troops are performing an important service there.
“I think we should be there,” he said. “Because if nobody steps in or says anything, it will get worse.”
Tyler’s contract with the Army covers an eight-year commitment.
“I’ll go two years active duty, which is full-time,” he said. “Then after that, my contract says I have four years of reserve, so I just go once a month. Then after that I’ll do two years of inactive reserve where I don’t do any training. I’m in there just in case something happens.”
For that commitment, the Army gave Tyler a $2,000 cash bonus and he will receive $34,000 for college, which he said he might use to prepare for a career in law enforcement.
In mid-May, the Army recruitment office called and offered to add to Tyler’s cash bonus if he would leave for basic training in late May-an indication of the crunch recruiters were feeling at the time, father Alan suspects.
But Tyler turned down the invitation. He said he wanted to play baseball this summer and spend some quality time with friends-which exactly is what he’s been doing.
And what do those friends think of his decision to enlist?
“It depends,” Tyler said. “Some of them think that it’s not that bad, with all the money. Others just get kind of worried with the stuff that’s going on (in Iraq).”
And his parents?
“They were a little nervous at first,” Tyler said. “Then they just said I needed to make sure that this is what I what I wanted.”
Alan and Michelle said their son’s decision to enlist in the Army didn’t surprise them.
“From way back, we’ve known that was an option he was going to consider,” Alan said. “We decided if he ever brought it up, we weren’t going to do anything to discourage that. We didn’t necessarily encourage it, either.”
“It was Tyler’s decision and I’m proud of him for it,” Michelle said. “Our belief is that he needs to help pay his way through school, and this was an option for him. He didn’t know for sure what he wanted to do. I think he has more of a sense of what he wants to do now.”
“I was probably more concerned when he explained what he had signed up for,” added Alan, who got the news in a phone call from Tyler while driving to work last summer.
“When he said infantry, I looked for some place to turn around and say, ‘Wait a minute here….’ I don’t know. There’s risk in anything you do. But I’m proud of him.”
For Tyler, risk is part of the allure.
“I always wanted to do it,” he said about his decision to sign up for the infantry. “I wanted to be in the middle of things.”
Tyler said his childhood interest in the military leveled off for a time, but was renewed in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.
“After that, we started sending people over (to Iraq) and the numbers started going down-that’s when I started thinking about it more,” he said.
Tyler talked to a recruiter during his sophomore year.
“I first met him at school,” said Tyler, who then took the entrance exam. “Since I did fairly well on it-well, they find you.”
Tyler said he wasn’t sure at first whether to sign up for active duty or reserve duty.
“I decided active duty was the best deal because I can be in there and have a full-time job to begin with-and it looks better on a resume when you go out and do other things,” he said.
“I decided (the Army) was the best place as any to start, and it could really get stuff going for me. I could experience a lot and have a job right out of high school.”
As the July 11 departure date has drawn closer, Tyler’s decision to enlist has become more and more real for his parents.
“High school graduation maybe wasn’t as moving a moment for us, because even though it’s a big deal, there’s something bigger coming up,” Alan said.
“I guess I look at (Tyler’s) going away to basic as one thing. But once he gets orders for where he’s going to be assigned, that could be pretty tough.”
The fact that Tyler is their firstborn child-sisters Rachelle will be high school sophomore and Heather an eighth-grader-doesn’t make the departure easier.
Said Michelle: “It’s going to be hard to stay good-bye.”
And how does Tyler feel about it?
“All right,” he said. “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”