Joining the Army National Guard as a 17-year-old junior in high school shifted my focus and my drive early on. My grandfather served in WWII, and my father followed in his footsteps with my brother following soon after.
I never thought that I would join and continue with the family’s military tradition and serve my country. The thought never crossed my mind, as I always have been free-spirited and didn’t care for the fast-paced, constricted military life I thought it was made out to be. Though, as time drew closer to deciding where I would further my education and gauging the cost of tuition, I began to weigh all of my options.
I’ve always loved the feeling of being independent and taking on more responsibilities than I necessarily have to. So, when it came down to deciding where I would attend college and the financial aspect, I immediately wanted to have control and find a solution that would suit my best interests. Even with my parents being able to help, as they have, I wanted to take the jurisdiction of my life and start to establish my independence.
From a life of being a military child, I could see the benefits of being in the military. I knew the Army would allow my tuition to be paid for while receiving other financial rewards. Attending a Historically Black College or University was something I had my heart set on. Growing up in Milwaukee, I yearned for an experience that was catered to my people and culture.
Considering what I wanted to do, I knew what I needed to do. After sitting down and convincing my parents that the military was the best option for me to attend college out of state, they supported my decision and we began the process of enlisting. In high school, I knew that the military would allow me to experience and view life from another perspective. Seeing this as my opportunity to be in control of my future and attend an out of state HBCU, I was eager to commit to six years of service.
Swearing to defend and protect my country in February of 2016 I was in for a rude awakening in the months to follow. Between the summer of my junior year and the summer after completing high school I was shipped off to training to be transformed into a soldier and to gain skills in my selected military job.
During those months away from my family, I was surrounded by strangers from all walks of life coming from all over the world. I was among the youngest of individuals training and often was placed in leadership roles and forced out of my comfort zone. During training, I was excluded from the outside world and confined to the military base where we trained.
I graduated basic and advanced training with a new mindset, expertise and discipline to bring to the next chapter of my life. Completing all of my initial courses with the military shortly after graduating high school, I started my college career at Florida A&M University.
While balancing college and a military career I have had to juggle schoolwork, internships, extracurricular and personal life on top of monthly military obligations, activations for hurricanes and recently COVID-19 assistance. When beginning college my freshman year, I was not prepared to handle all of my duties. I took on a lot at once and did not allow myself the proper time to recuperate for what was in store. It was not easy managing my course load while participating in organizations and making my way to and from military training without my car.
There were many times I questioned if it was worth it, and times that I still do. I have wanted to throw in the towel multiple times but persevere through situations because I know that in the end, it will be worth it.
During hurricanes, various activations, and while on orders, I am obligated by law to attend and be available at any given time that there is a need. It can become overwhelming as I often feel that my time sometimes really is not mine. For hurricanes each year, I have been activated for over a month, having to leave school and hit the road to help people in need. It had to become a priority for me to over-communicate with my professors so that they are aware of my responsibilities. Many understand and work with me through challenging times, while others do not care for my obligations as they see it as something I decided to do and have to manage regardless of the circumstances.
At one point, I was full-time working with the military to help with COVID-19 operations in the state of Florida while being enrolled in classes. It seems like a lot to manage, and can be. I have learned and am still learning to prioritize and make the most of all of my experiences. There have been opportunities and activities that I have missed out on due to my military commitment. With that, my responsibilities have been so rewarding.
Even when I am challenged, I know that I am continuously improving skills, bettering myself, and striving for all of my goals. Knowing that my duties as a soldier are benefiting lives keeps me going. The financial burden of school has not impacted me as it is covered through my service.
Overall, I knew that the military came with many pros and cons, as does everything in life. Without joining, I know that I would not be where I am today and possess the skills that I do. Everything in life does not come easy but once it is achieved it is fulfilling and rewarding.
Now a senior in college with more than four years of experience and coming to the end of my contract, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.