Proud to be an enlistee

Moffat County students run the gamut of reasons to join the military

In two weeks, Jason Kawcak will sign on the dotted line to make a childhood dream come true.

During the summer, Michelle Hardin did something people told her she couldn't do.

Both Moffat County teenagers want to serve in the U.S. military. And they want to do so at a time when the war in Iraq is producing lots of casualties, little good news and no sign of ending.

The two have different reasons for wanting to serve.

Kawcak, a Moffat County High School senior, said he plans to enlist in the Marines this month.

"I've thought about being a soldier most of my life," he said. "When I approached the end of high school, I didn't feel like going to school for another four years, but I still wanted to do something."

Hardin signed up for the Army in January. During the summer, she completed basic training and joined a reserve unit. She travels to the Front Range once a month to fulfill her reserve duties.

"I had a blast this summer," she said about boot camp. "It's the most fun I've ever had, and I came back a more disciplined and mature person."

The teenagers also are joining the military at a time when recruiters aren't so popular. Earlier this week, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure urging the city's public high schools and college campuses to keep military recruiters out.

"I don't think the recruiters are doing anything wrong," Hardin said. "If a person doesn't know they're joining to serve their country and possibly go to war, they shouldn't have made the decision.

"I really don't think there's an effort to brainwash or whatever people are saying."

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of fallen American soldier Casey Sheehan, is traveling the country speaking out against the war.

Kawcak's mother, Candi, said she has had some reservations about her son going to war, but she doesn't agree with Sheehan's effort.

"I believe that if it's your time to go, it's going to happen no matter where you're at," she said. "Because her son was killed, it doesn't give her the right to make it hard on others over there and their parents by going around like she is."

Kawcak said he was eager to serve.

"I think we went in there for a good reason," he said. "I don't know how much longer we should be there, but I'm going in knowing that it would be my duty to go if they asked me."

Every year, Moffat County students enlist in the military. Seven of the Class of 2005 enlisted. Last year, two students did, compared with nine the year before.

"The fluctuations have a lot to do with the recruiters," high school counselor Paula Duzik said. "When we have more active recruiters here, the numbers seem to go up."

Duzik said the reasons students give her for enlisting include having family members enlisted, earning money for college and receiving training for a profession.

Jeremy Rollins, who will graduate in the spring, scored 32 on his ACT, which was in the 97th percentile. He could have been accepted to nearly any school.

"(The Army) was my best option," he said. "I'm in a family of four, and scholarship money is hard to come by."

Hardin's focus was college.

"I wanted to stand out," Hardin said. "I joined more for the adventure, but I knew the school I was looking at had a good ROTC program."

After completing basic training, Hardin received a guarantee of a four-year scholarship to attend college at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Kawcak's professional interests matched the training he could receive in the Marine Corps, he said.

"Right now, they're talking about me being MP (military police) or a welder," he said. "With that training, I look at it as an opportunity like college."

All three have proud parents.

"When I was gone this summer, my co-workers said my parents would come in and brag about me," Hardin said.

Kawcak's mother had a chance to prepare for her son being a soldier most of his life.

"I've always known it was what he wanted to do," she said. "I'm really, really proud of him."

Julie Rollins is now the mother of two military boys.

"I think it's important in every kid's life that they participate in the military or in a mission," she said. "They can gain so much from that."

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