The military provides an alternative path to university

By Rituja Bhowmik, staff writer

Last year, about four percent of students from Maria Carrillo High School’s graduating class enlisted in the military. While not the typical path after graduation, there are many diverse jobs and opportunities that come with service.  

The U.S. military consists of five branches: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. Each branch has different eligibility requirements in order to apply. The application process to enlist is like a college application, except you choose a branch you are interested in instead of a major, and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, or ASVAB, instead of the SAT or ACT. Additionally, you must pass a physical exam with height and weight limits.

Having met these requirements, and given his interest in the mechanical career field, MCHS class of 2019 graduate Kyle Reynolds signed a six-year contract joining the Air Force. First he completed a nine-week Basic Military Training course (BMT). “BMT is very regimented, with a rigid schedule,” he said. 

After BMT,airmen are sent to technical school. Reynolds was sent to Sheppard Air Force Base, in Texas, where he is currently learning tactical air force maintenance. “Except for the uniforms, it’s not unlike a college environment,” he says. “A key difference is that we are paid to learn our jobs here, as opposed to paying for college classes.” 

While Reynolds is just starting his six-year enlistment, former Puma Ryder DeSalvo just completed his. A graduate of MCHS class of 2012, DeSalvo joined the Navy to become a SEAL. DeSalvo’s accomplishments during his six years on active duty include: being deployed in Bahrain three times and serving on the Harbor Patrol Unit for over two years. After his enlistment expired, he enrolled in the SRJC to study Biology and Kinesiology. He says learning combat first aid made him want to pursue a medical career. “In high school, I was barely pulling C’s and B’s. In college now I’m coming up on my third semester at a 4.0. I have the people in the service to thank for that.” And thanks to the GI Bill, which covers college tuition expenses, DeSalvo’s education is free. 

While DeSalvo served in the Navy as an enlisted member, Steve Contouritis served in the Army  for over 30 years as an officer. Joining in 1977, he says his only reason was to “serve my country.” Another difference is that Contouritis chose to go to college before entering the military, instead of after. “One of the jobs that interested me was aviation. To do that, I needed a college degree,” he says. 

After getting licensed as a helicopter pilot, Contouritis became an aviation officer. In his 23 years of service on active duty, 13 of those years were spent overseas. He has completed six tours of duty, a type of deployment to a foreign region for a period of time, spent in combat. You cannot see or bring your family during this time. 

For Contouritis, the hardest tour was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, partly because it was his longest tour, at 13 months long, and also because of deadly chemical weapons. He was a high ranking officer responsible for over 400 men. “As an officer,” he says, “the biggest fear is to lose your soldiers. As you become more senior, you have fewer people to commiserate with,” he says. “It’s lonely at the top.”

The military covers healthcare expenses, offers tuition assistance, and chaplain services for active duty and retired members. However, these benefits must be considered with a grain of salt. “War is a very ugly thing” admits Contouritis. He recounts the numerous friends he has made and lost. DeSalvo shares the same views, saying the biggest downside is making “ great friends and family out of folks in service only to be eventually disbanded and sent off to different tours of duty elsewhere.” Even Reynolds, a fairly new recruit who has never been in combat, has experienced the effects of long term stress and separation from family. Moreover “it’s not uncommon to fall into debt by simply being naive,” he says. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans are 15 times more likely to get PTSD than the average civilian. Nevertheless, Reynolds says ‘it’s just important to remember why we come here.” 

For MCHS sophomore Ella Peirce, many reasons sparked her interest in attending West Point ever since she got a letter from them in the mail. Peirce, who wants to study Sports Medicine, likes the military approach because it is “well-rounded”, placing importance on physical fitness and learning skills that could be applied to the civilian world. That, and the peace of mind of a guaranteed paycheck, which seems “less scary than trying to find a job out of college.” But ultimately it is the idea of working as a team with a “new demographic of people” that intrigues her. “To achieve that would be really fulfilling,” she says, “to be part of a bigger purpose than myself.”

However, attending a military academy is only required for those who want to have leadership positions. In the military, there is a path for almost anyone who is interested, it is just a matter of knowing your options.

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