As told to Emily Gremling
Facing Life After High School: The Story of Clay Burkholder
One of the earliest memories I have is of my grandfather. He even taught me how to make toast, and he always put butter and sugar on it. That became like my go-to snack for years afterward. He also taught me how to play baseball. Although he died when I was about eight, he was a major influence on my life. My grandfather was a gun mechanic for the United States Navy during World War II. He was stationed in the Pacific, so he was actually there for the attack on Pearl Harbor. His ship, the USS Arizona, was sunk during the attack, but he survived. Although he didn’t talk about his experience much, and I was too young at the time, he got me interested in the military. I began playing with my army men and GI Joes and I since then, I knew I wanted to join the military.
It was junior year of high school and everyone started to know what they wanted to do with their lives. It felt like everyone but me had a plan. I knew I wanted to serve our country, but going into active duty didn’t feel right. Before I enlisted, I was just going to come to Ohio Northern. Although I love the school, I had no way to afford it. Most importantly, I still felt like something was missing.
Finally, is was the end of senior year and I was graduating. I was moving on to the next part of my life, but I felt like something was off. Everyone was so excited about going to college, but I didn’t really feel it. Although I love Ohio Northern, I felt like there was something else I was supposed to be doing. A week after graduation, I discovered the national guard and for the first time, it’s like things fell into place for me. Within a week, I had enlisted and I was on my way to becoming a part of the United States Military.
I signed up so late that I was not able to go to basic training in June. I did my first semester of college here at Ohio Northern and then went to basic training in January. The moment I first visited campus, I knew this was the school for me. This is where everyone in my family has gone, so it felt right. I never even visited another school, but I haven’t regretted my decision to come here even for a second. I became pretty involved in the school. I was in the marching band my first semester here. I also joined Res Life and even became an RA.
When I went to basic, I was not at all prepared for what was to come. It was the most trying experience of my life. It was physically rigorous and mentally taxing. I had never been away from home for that long, so I was really nervous. The first day of official training is called day zero. Things aren’t even physically difficult on day zero, but it is basically to put the fear of God in you. Drill sergeants yelled at us, telling us we had twenty seconds to move our bags from point A to point B and it was terrifying. We were getting screamed at and we got twenty seconds to call our parents. So, I call my mom and everyone is crying. We had like no time to talk so I told her I had gotten there safe and that I hated it there. Then we got screamed at to hang up our phones and we had to hand them over for the rest of training. Then the next day we started training for twelve hours a day.
When I finished basic training, I still had to go to AIT and Intel School. AIT is advanced individual training, and it basically is like getting a degree in the military because it teaches you how to do your specific job. After that I went to Intel School in Arizona for sixteen more weeks. Although it felt like forever, there were some moments that made it feel like it was worth it. We had family visitation days, which really helped because I’ve always been very close with my family. Graduation was also a huge moment for me. I was so proud of myself for making it through basic training.
When I finally returned to college, I finally felt like my life was on track. I decided to study criminal justice. A huge reason I decided to become a criminal justice major is because I want to be able to help and protect people. While this field of study allows many different job opportunities, I am planning on becoming a state trooper. Many people believe that state troopers are just the guys that pull you over on the highway, but it’s a lot more than that. A big reason that I want to be a state trooper is because they protect the safety of civilians. When I become a state trooper, I’ll still be able to do police work, but with state benefits. It is also safer to become a state trooper because the majority of police fatalities occur during domestic disturbances.
Although there are many benefits that come with being a part of the military, the main reason I enlisted was for the pride I have in my country. I am proud to be a part of a country that has so many different cultures and is so accepting. There is also a sense of pride that comes with becoming a part of the military because a small portion of the population does it. I have always cared deeply for my family. I believe that being a part of the military gives me a chance to protect them and make them proud. Although many people in my life have inspired me, the most prominent being my grandfather, I truly believe that I was called to join the United States Army.
This story originally appeared in Facing Our Futures Beyond High School, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.