My Teen Is a Soldier Now

I never thought I'd be writing those words. Jack grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles amongst the rich and famous. Not that we are either, but let me just say that he had to drive a bit to find the nearest recruiting center.
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He just graduated high school in June. He started basic training in October. He is just 18 and he is one of our soldiers now.

I never thought I'd be writing those words. Jack grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles amongst the rich and famous. Not that we are either, but let me just say that he had to drive a bit to find the nearest recruiting center. They don't have one in Pacific Palisades, California where he went to high school. In fact, only one other kid from all of Jack's fellow Palisades High School graduates joined the military and there were 750 kids in his graduating class.

He has always had an interest in the military. When he was really little and we would play with cars in his room, he would always be the cop and constantly be pulling us over for some "infraction." We would try and drive perfectly but a few seconds in and the siren would start up. "Do you know how fast you were going?"

At 13, Jack joined the Civil Air Patrol. It's a civilian branch of the Air Force and they have a group for teens. He liked it for a while, but grew tired of the drills and they didn't get to fly, except once, so he switched to the Naval Sea Cadets. It's like the Navy for kids, and he even went to a kid boot camp for a week. So his interest in the military and law enforcement is just part of who he is. And yet, joining the military was not even an idea until...

Jack was an exceptional student. Always got A's, took honors and AP classes, did well on the SAT and still the competition to get into college now is crazy. He got into his third choice, which was the University of California at Santa Cruz. For the first year, with resident status -- keep in mind this is a state school -- including room and board, the cost was going to be $36,000. Thirty-six-thousand dollars for one year of college. Really? That adds up to $144,000 for the four-year degree with room and board figured in. The university was willing to give us a parent loan for $23,000 at 6.8 percent interest and the rest would be student loans. Kids and older parents are now either coming out with huge debt that takes forever (if ever) to pay back or they had the money stashed away.

We had the money stashed away in the form of property that we were holding onto until we needed to sell it for college. And then the recession hit. Our investment property in Palm Desert lost so much of its value that to hold onto it was more expensive than the potential to see that money back some day, and so we had to sell it and there went his college money. Epic failure on our parts, I know, but buying an investment property in 2005 seemed like a no-brainer.

And so we were prepared to borrow money for college, but Jack wasn't. He knew the value of the B.A. and that stacked against the cost just didn't make sense to him. The thought of going to community college for two years and working and then transferring to a University to finish up was not at all appealing to him and so off he went to the recruiting center -- against my will!

What we learned is that the Navy and the Air Force are full. Full! To capacity. No more room for anyone to join. I was shocked by that. The Army had openings. That was the only branch that did. I find that fascinating. The other part of this I found enlightening was just how hard it is to join. It's not like you might imagine where you go, they're desperate for people, you sign a paper and leave the next day. It was a process that took time and they are very picky now. There is competition to get into our military. Who knew?

He made it in and he's now in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He's going to be a medical laboratory technician and so he is unlikely to see combat, but you never know. He will come out in five years with an A.A. and the Army will pay for the rest of his B.A. once he gets out. His company has a Facebook page where they post updates and photos of the kids going through basic. Part of the training includes wearing a gas mask and going into a gas chamber full of tear gas. This is what my baby looks like coming out of the gas chamber. Not anything a mother wants to see. He's the blonde in the center.

Photo courtesy US Army

Not that I'm psychic or anything, but I think more of our kids are going to be forced, so to speak, to make this choice for lack of better alternatives. We'll see, but the price of college, the lack of value the B.A. now has, and the recession have all conspired to push Jack in that direction. I doubt we're alone.

On the plus side, the Army now has one amazing soldier.