‘Army of One’ Adds Two More to Its Ranks

Waking up at the crack of dawn to the blare of bugles, running for hours in heavy bulletproof armor and doing push-ups until one’s arms give out is a routine familiar to anyone who has seen war movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Blackhawk Down.” While for most this is just the stuff of a big action Hollywood blockbuster, for seniors Mark Johnson and Jon Wheeler it will be their future.

Best friends Mark and Jon spent the last three months at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina completing their basic training in preparation for their entrance into the U.S. Armed Forces next year. They are pursuing a “split option,” which is when recruits do their basic training at 17.

Jon signed up last April and later introduced Mark to his recruiter.

Mark signed up because of the 9/11 attacks, but Jon “joined the army to fight for my country and because [his] grandfather inspired [him].”

Currently, Mark and Jon are in the Army Reserves, but Jon and Mark will most likely be stationed in Afghanistan after graduation.

“I’m not afraid of the fact [that I may be going to war],” Jon said. “I actually look forward to going.”

But before the two are actually deployed to Afghanistan, they must complete their Advanced Individual Training, where they will learn the ins and outs of their particular jobs.

They already learned the basics this past summer.

“Training over the summer was brutal … because of the heat and humidity,” Jon said.

Training consisted of waking up at 5 a.m. and doing physical training at 6 a.m. After, they would go eat breakfast and continue with whatever training was scheduled for that day, ranging from basic marksman training to land navigation to combat life saving.
Transitioning to this kind of lifestyle was not eased by having to live with a bunch of strangers in close quarters.

“The people there were very diverse,” Jon said. “It was a little weird at first being with people that weren’t from California.”

However, both found company among many other recruits also pursuing the split option, so Mark felt like many of the other soldiers “had a lot in common” with him.

“It was interesting,” Mark said. “There were some times when I had a great time, especially when I was leading my squad through ‘hostile towns’ and [kicking] down doors and [taking] out the bad guys. Other times I was completely bored and homesick. … Everyone was getting stressed out, and fights always broke out.”

Though they may have had some difficult experiences, Mark said that he has gained a lot from his training.

“I learned a lot about leadership skills that are very important for the military and in civilian life since I was appointed as a Squad Leader by my Senior Drill Sergeant,” he said. “I learned how to cope with people I absolutely cannot stand and how to work effectively with them.”

Now that they are back home, both are trying to adjust back to being normal high school students.

“It’s been really different transitioning from civilian to soldier [and then] to a soldier in a civilian setting,” Mark said. “At first I could not stand it … because I was used to kicking down doors and getting shot at and loved to do it. [Ever since] I came back home, [I] didn’t know what to do with myself since I had been so used to being told what to do by a Drill Sergeant 24/7 for three months. I’m still kind of adjusting to the difference.”
Both are looking forward to switching back to soldier mode once graduation is over.

“I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and am looking forward to serving my country,” Mark said. “I know that there is definitely a chance that I won’t make it back home if I get deployed to combat, and I accept that. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was 10 years old in my fourth grade classroom and am proud to be doing for my country.”

Jon agrees with this sentiment, but has also learned something from this entire experience.

“I have learned to not take things for granted and that family is the most important thing ever,” Jon said. “It’s just keeping my soldier values and remembering what I represent.”