Saugerties Students Participate in "Split Option" Military Program
Last summer, Saugerties students Alejandro Martinez and Cameron Young were yet not eligible to vote because they were just 17 years old. And yet they both took the thoroughly adult step of taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and obey the orders of the President. They did so by participating in a special “Split Option” military program.
During their junior year, the students decided that they wanted to go into the military and opted to enlist early. They subsequently gave up their summer vacation plans to attend the first part of their basic training, with a promise to return on designated weekends during their senior year to complete their training. The program is split between two years, which allows 17-year-olds to enlist (with parental permission) and to start their careers early.
Tim Reid, Principal of Saugerties High School, is proud of how Martinez and Young are forging their own futures. “Whether our students intend to go to college, enroll in a trade school, join the military, or go directly into the workforce, we are committed to helping them succeed after they leave our school. There are many options and pathways to success, and by choosing to enlist, Alejandro and Cameron are taking advantage of the one that best meets their life goals and passions. We are very proud of them.”
Both Saugerties students have enjoyed the hands-on work they have done at the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center, where Martinez is enrolled in the Aviation program, and Young in the Auto Collision program. The military, they realized, would offer even more hands-on learning opportunities. They also found the prospect of receiving health benefits, paid college, extra certifications, and travel opportunities enticing.
Joining the military is a big commitment, Young acknowledged. “Looking back,” he said, “I remember signing up and thinking ‘Oh, no, I’m going to miss going to Zoom Flume this summer!’” But as Young’s recruiter, Sergeant First Class Amanda Jaskot, noted, “He achieved something so much more than what he could have gained from a few water park trips!”
Deep inside, Martinez always had the feeling that he wanted to join the Army Reserves, and was determined to follow his dream.
That determination was tested during the first few weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Martinez said he had to learn so much in those first few days that he thought his brain would explode. Every day, he and the other enlistees needed to arrive (clean shaven) at formation on time, ready and able to work out, memorize commands, learn how to handle a weapon, rappel, and march. The work, he said, was physically and mentally challenging.
Martinez’s recruiter, Staff Sergeant Jason Lopez, said that Martinez did very well in basic training. Over the past few years, Sergeant Lopez states, the military has been taking a new approach to basic training, moving away from the stereotypical scenario of having drill sergeants yelling commands inches away from terrified trainees and instead offering training that is designed to foster team bonding and developing well-educated soldiers. Martinez, however, recalling what happened when his bed-making skills didn’t meet his drill sergeant’s standards, is quick to point out that “They still yell!” The upside of that yelling, he joked, is that he is now capable of making a “lean, mean bed” that even his mother would be proud of.
Both Young and Martinez said that the hardest part of basic training was that they missed the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do. Every day there was a schedule, and sometimes they just wanted to just relax and do nothing.
Young, who enlisted in the National Guard and also did his basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, said the whole time he was there he questioned whether he had made a good choice. “It’s like an endurance test to see how much you can handle,” he stated. While reminiscing about ruck marching, Young grimaced and looked exhausted. A ruck, which is a backpack filled with necessary military gear, can weigh 45 pounds or more, and the enlistees had to haul their ruck around for several miles out in the woods. “I so badly wanted to give up,” Young recalled. Young’s reaction was a normal one, Jaskot explained. “The reward is putting in the hard work and getting to the other side,” she added.
Both Young’s and Martinez’s parents said that their sons returned from basic training exhibiting greater levels of respect, maturity, and self-confidence.
Both young men agree that although basic training was hard, they have no regrets about their decision to join the military. They are both proud of what they have accomplished so far and look forward to what the future holds for them.