Incentives for a military career path
“I’m a little bit afraid for you guys and what you’re facing after high school,” California Army National Guard (ARNG) Career Counselor and Staff Sergeant Dante Burce said.
As the cost of a higher education increases to unprecedented levels, high school students are looking for a wider range of options for their post-high school careers. Military careers are becoming increasingly appealing to students as a way to overcome the barrier of the cost in higher education. In a poll of 120 Bonita Vista High (BVH) students going into the military conducted by the Crusader, 40 percent stated they are going into the military to help pay for their education.
“I definitely think [the cost of college] opens people’s eyes more, making [a military career] a viable option. They can go to school for free and get paid from enlisting to a service academy,” West Point Graduate and United States (U.S.) Army Captain Richard Mendoza said.
West Point is a U.S. Military Academy located in West Point, New York. Admitted students get financial benefits including four years of free tuition, stipends for textbooks, free room and board, dining, dental and medical care and also receive a monthly stipend of up to $525 for personal expenses. After their four years at West Point, all cadets must serve for five years in the military. While this may be an appealing offer, Mendoza states that finances should not be the only motivator for students considering a military academy after high school.
“You’re going to serve [so] make sure that you want to serve for your country, regardless of what institution it is; Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, West Point or even those ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] programs across the country,” Mendoza said.
Burce finds that the cost of college has also made enlistment into the ARNG more appealing to students. Every year that a person serves in the military, they are qualified to receive 4000 dollars of federal assistance tuition to help pay for their higher education. In addition, being in the ARNG qualifies students for the National Guard grain where they receive 12,000 dollars per year, totaling 16,000 dollars available for students in the ARNG to pursue a higher education.
“The cost of higher education has drastically [gone] up. The National Guard benefits plus the federal benefits that we’re privy to, everything encompassing that definitely covers one’s higher education,” Burce said.
I think that’s a very important part, to have influencers so you have a soundboard and see if [the military is] something that you’d be interested in.
— West Point Graduate and United States (U.S.) Army Captain Richard Mendoza
The ARNG covers a person’s education while they are serving as long as they continue to pursue a higher degree. For example, if a person in the ARNG wishes to pursue a doctorate degree, that will be covered, while a second masters’ degree will not. This is because ARNG soldiers are encouraged to focus on self improvement.
“Especially for our rank, in order to continue moving up the chain it’s highly encouraged to continue personal professional development,” Bruce said. “It makes it a lot more feasible to fund one’s higher education so that the focus can be more on academics as opposed to work.”
While cost is a significant incentive for students to choose a military career path, it is not the only cause of the recent uptick in interest from students. San Diego State University (SDSU) ROTC Recruiting Operations Officer Michael Brantley explains that getting students interested in ROTC was just a matter of having the right information.
“I don’t think a lot of people know about it, because I know I didn’t. It’s been 20 years and I didn’t know that there was a Navy ROTC. I think some people confuse ROTC with JROTC [Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] at high schools,” Brantley explained.
Brantley has changed the way the SDSU ROTC team recruits students into their program. They now focus on trying to reach as many high schools in the San Diego area as possible, including Crawford High School (CHS), Morse High School (MHS) and Lincoln High School (LHS).
“You got a lot of stellar kids there that just don’t know. [They don’t have the] funds to actually pay for college,” Brantley said. “They have the grades to get accepted but they don’t have [the money] to pay for it.”
The result has been a greater racial diversity in the students joining ROTC. In fact, the military has long been a vehicle for economic mobility for historically disadvantaged groups, specifically black men. An analysis by Wilcox et. al. for the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies found that black men who served in the military are 10 percent more likely to be in the middle class by their midlife compared to those who did not serve.
In a world where the cost of college bars people from low socioeconomic groups from accessing a higher education, the military can serve for the same purpose. Considering that CHS, MHS, LHS and BVH are major minority schools, the military is a door opener for students interested in pursuing a higher education.
“There’s no financial barrier. Once you join the military, you most likely will have free school. So it relieves that financial burden,” Mendoza emphasized.
For Mendoza, free tuition, service and educational quality were the three main reasons driving him to apply to West Point. Mendoza graduated from West Point in 2014 after first studying at Whittier College for a year and a half.
“West Point is definitely known as the preeminent academic institution for leadership, not only in the U.S. but also in the world. It usually ranks up there with the Ivy Leagues as far as academic prestige goes,” Mendoza said.
At West Point, all graduates will get a Bachelors of Science Degree regardless of what they choose to study. Educational opportunities and free tuition in conjunction make West Point and other military academies an appealing choice for students coming out of high school.
“People that are reaching out and looking at top institutions [are] seeing what’s ranking really high and what’s affordable. All of the service academies, not just West Point, stand out [because] you can have a top tier education and have zero cost, which is pretty remarkable,” Mendoza said.
Another component that motivates students to choose a military career path is familial ties to the military. As Brantley stated, “you have to add on to initial motivation”. For Burce, that initial motivation was his father who was in the Navy.
“I grew up as a Navy dependent, so I’m a Navy brat. So I knew that some form of military was always something I wanted to do… [I see] the National Guard as an extension of one’s family,” Burce said.
Similarly, Mendoza’s father was in the Navy and his grandfather was in the Army. Family ties to the military–such as these– help students more easily navigate what career path they want to pursue after high school.
“It’s sort of instilled in me when I was younger and helped me navigate that process. ‘Hey, I do want to go into the military’ was an easier conversation for me,” Mendoza said.
Regardless of why a student decides to go into the military, having a support system is crucial. Mendoza explains the environment he was in greatly aided him in deciding on a career path.
“I know people to reach out to: mentors and guidance counselors, principals, people who have served or [people who] just support the military,” Mendoza said. “I think that’s a very important part, to have influencers so you have a soundboard and see if [the military is] something that you’d be interested in.”
Support systems surrounding students joining the military
Bonita Vista High (BVH) students receive a variety of support and resources if they are interested in joining the United States (U.S.) military after high school. Counselors, U.S. military recruiters and family members help guide and prepare these students in their path to pursue a U.S. military branch financially, mentally and physically.
Junior Carlo Zapata knew he wanted to join the military since he was seven years old. Serving in the military has been in his family for generations. As a result of this tradition, Zapata wanted to continue and follow in their footsteps. Zapata reached out to his counselor for information and now plans on going into the United States Naval Academy (USNA). But as of now, Zapata first focuses on his priorities before joining the USNA.
“I’m not going to go straight into the military [after high school]. I’m going to one of the military academies,” Zapata said. “[It] helps to speak with my counselor, getting the structure that I need, finishing my assignments on time [and] doing all that I would need to go into the Naval Academy.”
Zapata feels his counselors were helpful in supporting him throughout this process. The counselors helped provide tools and resources he needed regarding the USNA. Along with his counselors, his teachers also offered support.
“I received a lot of moral support in general and Ms. Ramirez had a big role in helping me. She was also in the military,” Zapata said. “I try to talk to teachers about [going into the USNA]. They say I’m very level headed [and that] I’m very set on what I want to do. [The USNA is] exactly what I want.”
Having support and resources from counselors and teachers at school wasn’t the only source of help Zapata received. He also shares how his mom helped him out the most during his decision process.
“It wasn’t really just the counselor, but mostly my mom. My mom’s a teacher so she really knows all the options after [high school] military wise,” Zapata said.
For most students like Zapata, parents are there to help them be successful in what comes after high school. Similar to Zapata, senior Makalya Veglia has received support from her parents as she was recruited by the United States Military Academy (USMA) to play softball. M. Veglia’s father Antony Veglia speaks about being a supportive parent. He adds that he wants his daughter to be successful in whatever route she takes after high school.
“Me helping [M. Veglia] go to West Point is about preparing her to be a high achiever and to do her best,” A. Veglia said. “To be successful in athletics, it takes the same character traits as it does to be successful academically. She’s always gone down that road from very early in life.”
A. Veglia shares how M. Veglia has always grown up to be independent and achieve great things. USMA first saw her in Head First Honor Roll softball camp for high academically achieving student-athletes. After continuing to watch her play in travel softball, they later offered her to play for them.
“Makayla has been taught from the very beginning to be an independent thinker and to not comply with what other people think you should do. You should take the path that is best for you,” A. Veglia said. “We’ve always respected Makalyas choices. She’s always been very mature [and] made decisions based on what we felt was with good reasons.”
A. Veglia stresses how USMA is the right fit for M. Veglia. Her decision to go to USMA after high school was entirely up to her. A. Veglia is there to just support her as much as he can throughout her journey.
“She made that choice [to go to USMA]. What we did is provide a loving environment at home which I think all parents should try to do,” A. Veglia said. “[We also gave] her opportunities that she wanted. ‘Did she need rides to games?’ And it was always yes, she got rides to games. We made sacrifices as a family. But to be a college-athlete and to be a good student, even in high school, it’s very difficult [and] very time consuming.”
A. Veglia’s parents made tough decisions so she can be successful in softball as she goes into USMA next year. A. Veglia explains how even though it’s tough, taking a step back is important so M. Veglia can go on to do great things.
We’re more than just recruiters. We are mentors and leaders in any capacity we can be. All we want to do is make sure that every high school student is successful, whether it’s in the military or not.
— Marine Career Counselor and Staff Sergeant Rigoberto Arce
“It’s hard as a dad once your daughter or son [moves] to be that far away. But it’s not my choice, I’ve lived my life, I went to college. It’s what’s best for Makayla, it’s not what’s best for me. She made that decision [and] I 100 percent am ok [with it],” A. Veglia said.
Overall, as M. Veglia takes her next step towards the military, the transition from high school softball to USMA softball displays a special opportunity. That is just one of many unique opportunities the military has to offer for students after they graduate.
“Each military branch offers different opportunities so students need to check with the recruiters,” BVH Military Liaison Rosa Tovar said. “During lunch, the different military branches have a table set up in the quad for students to approach them with questions.”
Marine Career Counselor and Staff Sergeant Rigoberto Arce is a recruiter who sits at one of the tables that is occasionally out in the quad of the BVH campus. Throughout lunch he helps students by answering questions, most of which regard the process of joining the Marines.
“The process is five steps. First you should reach out to a recruiter to see if you meet the basic eligibility. Then come into the office, take a [Armed Services Vocational Battery] ASVAB practice test. Then students go to the Military Entrance Processing Station to get medically qualified and ASVAB qualified as well,” Arce said.
Not only does Arce help students by talking to them and answering their questions, but he also helps by tutoring students in different subjects. Arce assists students as they practice for taking the ASVAB test–which reveals career strengths for potential enlisted soldiers.
“A lot of students have trouble with the ASVAB. I’ll do one-on-one study sessions on math or reading to help them increase their scoring [and] help them get to a spot where they are eligible to join,” Arce said. “I’ll help them study at least twice a week. A lot of my days are structured in the evening to help students with math and English.”
Arce mentions that whatever it is he can possibly do to help students, he does. Although he is a Marine recruiter, he provides students the opportunities to talk to other branches so they can receive all the resources necessary if they are interested in a military career path.
“I know for myself and the recruiters here in Imperial Beach, we try our best to offer every student the opportunity who wants to join the Marine Corps, to help them try and get qualified,” Arce said.
The most important thing counselors, recruiters and parents want for their students is to be successful after highschool. Arce explains how having lots of resources and tools available to students drives their success.
“If I talk to someone and the Marine Corps isn’t for them, then I try and provide them [with] as many resources as possible. Either for college or whatever they want to pursue, if it’s a trade school or even opening up a business,” Arce said. “We’re more than just recruiters. We are mentors and leaders in any capacity we can be. All we want to do is make sure that every high school student is successful, whether it’s in the military or not.”
senior Stephanie Ling
“ROTC is definitely challenging physically, mentally and emotionally, but it’s one of those things that people can really learn from. So I would definitely suggest getting a support system, or talking with a few people who already know [about ROTC]. Don’t take discouragement too harsh, which is definitely easier said than done, but it’s just one of those things that makes you reframe your mindset,” senior Stephanie Ling said.
As the last semester comes to an end, seniors only have six months before they graduate high school. For Ling, she plans on going to a four-year university and joining The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). She explains that ROTC is a program that people tend to participate in during college and allows training for the military. While pursuing the path towards becoming a commissioned officer for the military, Ling will be able to receive her college degree.
“I feel it is a really great program for students who transition from educational life and into their career life because, being a possible future engineering major, I will be serving five years in the Air Force after college and that’s a transition period where the Air Force does provide a lot of specialized training for you,” Ling said.
Ling considers the challenges that she may face when joining ROTC. She fears that she won’t be prepared enough to face the harsh conditions but encourages herself in her choice to join and push through it. She further comments that she hopes to be able to keep a strong mindset and be open to suggestions given by her fellow ROTC members. Ling plans on being involved with her college through various clubs and different hobbies to help her in her future career in the military.
“ROTC is going to be a huge time commitment, as well as a physical commitment. But I’m also hoping to join skiing clubs, skating clubs, rocket clubs and other things like that,” Ling said. “So with all of these things piled, I guess a fear of mine is not being able to do all the things that I want to.”
To prepare for this lifestyle change, Ling has taken it upon herself to take an additional Physical Education (P.E) class at BVH. She also explains how she does fitness training at home and pilates with her mom weekly. She prepares for the fitness exam, which consists of a one and a half mile run, one minute of push ups and one minute of situps.
“I’ve been training pretty much every day to increase my muscle strength and abilities. So sometimes I’ll go run at the park or golf course and then partake in P.E. at the school right now,” Ling said.
There is a mental aspect in preparation for the military, as Ling explains. However, she has stayed consistent with her extracurriculars and academics. She also explains that she has had to shift her focus on her own values when there are specific expectations about women in the military. She mentions how they are seen as if they don’t belong and should choose to work elsewhere. She is able to focus on those who have shown their support to her such as close family and friends to ignore these stereotypes.
“I’ve definitely had a lot of support with my friends who are planning on joining the AirForce. My immediate family, like my sister and my mom, have been really supportive of me trying to go through this experience and be able to learn from it,” Ling said.
Ling prepares herself in multiple aspects of her life to join a four-year college and continue in ROTC to become a commissioned officer in the military. She continues to express her thoughts about the benefits ROTC has to offer and explains how she has set herself up to achieve both a college degree and her desire to protect her loved ones.
“[I want to] serve my country and do my part to keep the people who I love safe, even in a miniscule way. I want to grow stronger and build my character, which is something that definitely will happen in ROTC with all the training and expectations that come from it,” Ling said.
senior Makayla Veglia
“When you graduate from West Point [the United States Military Academy], there’s so many opportunities that you can pursue, whether that be in the military or as a civilian job after you serve your five years,” senior Makayla Veglia said.
At Bonita Vista High (BVH), there are many students hoping to enroll in the military straight out of highschool, whether they choose to attend a military academy, or join the ROTC program. Veglia is one of those many students striving to join the military. She plans to enroll at West Point after she graduates high school.
“I am not one hundred percent positive yet but once I [get to West Point], I want to major in either engineering, branch engineering or branch cybersecurity,” Veglia said.
Though Veglia has involved herself to prepare for West Point and the military, she shares other interests such as playing softball. West Point had come to Veglia’s viewpoint after being recruited by her softball coach. Once she was recruited, Veglia was determined to make the dream of playing collegiate softball and serving in the military a success.
“My plan has always been to play collegiate softball. So being able to play at the next level and to be able to play at a school–like West Point–is something that I look forward to,” Veglia said.
Since the age of 10, Veglia’s life has been surrounded by softball. She has high hopes to make it to the 2022 softball tournament and win the Patriot League conference. She explains that being part of softball has helped her with fitness as she continues to train and prepare herself for how physically and mentally demanding her future may come to be.
“Because of how physically demanding the military is, I am working out intensely and practicing for softball to get better [and] to play at the division one level. Academically, I’m doing my schoolwork [to graduate],” Veglia said. “I like to go on runs too because it relaxes me. I like to attack head on what might be stressing me out.”
Veglia reflects on the challenges that will be brought upon her. Ultimately, she predicts that her biggest challenge will be balancing the military and school life that comes with West Point. She also shares a fear of being away from her family and home.
“I am scared to leave. I’ve never been away from my parents for longer than a week. So going to the other side of the country and not seeing my parents will be scary. I’m going to miss my baby brother,” Veglia said.
Veglia explains her family’s importance in her decision to enroll at West Point and how they have supported her. She further adds that her parents raised her in a certain way that has allowed her to grow and make important decisions on her own for her future.
“As support, [my family] raised me to do what I can to the best of my abilities and then, let that lead me in life’. And [now], I like making my own choices,” Veglia said.
Once Veglia is to arrive at West Point, she explains that she is going to feel a mix of emotions like joyfulness but also fear. But mostly as Veglia describes, “excitement for what lies ahead”. She also finds herself noticing the happiness of those around her when she is beginning to make her own important choices for life after high school.
“Im looking forward to growing into myself these next four years. Maturing and just growing into a military officer is something I look forward to,” Veglia said.
BVH alumni and senior recruit Gabriella Bomjardim
“Choosing the Navy was a good choice. It set me off on a good path, I have a good job, I workout daily, I have my good friends and I have a solid job” senior recruit Gabriella Bomjardim said.
Bonita Vista High (BVH) alumni Bomjardim knew she was committed from the beginning of high school to working for the U.S Navy. She graduated with the class of 2022 and began her 10 week bootcamp to prepare for officially joining the Navy. She explains the challenges she faced and what she hadn’t expected from training.
“For me, the hardest thing from training was working out because that is what almost sat me out [from boot camp]. We were supposed to take the running qualifications to see if you meet Navy standards and I barely passed it so I think [that was challenging] for me,” Bomjardim said.
Bomjardim explains that she isn’t someone who relies on goals for herself and instead plans as she goes everyday. She is currently pushing herself to continue to study and achieve her preferred Navy rate-military rank of an enlisted sailor.
“Studies were right after chow. They were [on] how to wear the proper military uniform, sexual assault prevention, how to eat right [for strength] I know we did the code of conduct for the military or Navy.”
She further states that she isn’t one who would involve herself with studies in high school and knew that as a result she wasn’t going to further her education if she went to college. Instead she wanted to focus her knowledge on military skills.
“I am not a big fan of studying and I have to study here [at the Navy] which I’m kinda struggling with, but I am getting better. I knew I wasn’t going to go far in college so I was like the Navy sounds like a good choice, let’s go that way,” Bomjardim emphasized.
Bonjaridm describes her day-to-day life for 10 weeks during her bootcamp. She explains that she always wakes up early in the morning and is given 10 minutes to get ready in her green training uniforms. This was followed by instructions for two divisions with both male and female compartments.
“I had an integrated division so there’s two compartments for male & female. Females would do quarters so we could know the time of day for what time we were cleaning and some further upcoming events [while males were given other tasks],” Bomjardim said.
From waking up at six o’clock a.m. for battle stations to practicing drills during the late evening, Bomjardim reflects on her bootcamp experience earlier this year and comments on the memories and highlights she will always remember.
“The friendships at night when everyone is yelling at each other to shut up. [It creates] those little moments of talking to each other because you can’t talk during the day. We would huddle in a little corner and have moments of sharing things, lifestyles and giving each other advice,” Bomjardim said.
To all seniors and future seniors choosing to join the military after high school, Bomjardim motivates the thought and comments that the bootcamps and training are life changing as “it really is worth it.” She further explains that she has created bonds with many people, has been offered new opportunities, and looks forward to traveling the world wherever and whenever she is stationed.
“Besides the schedules, crazy mayhem and people yelling at you twenty-four seven, it’s amazing. I get paid good twice a month, I have amazing friends, a roof over my head and food provided for me. It’s amazing,” Bomjardim said.