For eight recent Milton High School graduates, the military is in their future. They are Alex Carrel (Army), Anneka Dorn (Air Force ROTC), Maddie Heft (Air Force), Joshua Johnson (Marine Corps), Makenzie Long (National Guard), Kyle Miller-Tormey (Army), Mitchell Zabel (Army) and Elijah Richmond (Navy).
Four students (Johnson, Miller-Tormey, Zabel and Richmond) met with the Milton Courier at the Milton Public Library the Friday before graduation to talk about why they chose to serve in the military.
Some have relatives who served. Zabel’s dad (BJ Zabel) was a Marine combat engineer. Zabel and Johnson both had grandpas who served in Vietnam.
Miller-Tormey, 18, already has completed basic training and is a year into his six-year Army contract. He joined when he was 17 and went through basic combat training after his junior year. On June 20 he was scheduled to ship out to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for advanced individual training. He will train to be a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. After that, being in the Reserves he said means one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. He plans to study chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and depending on how things go, might sign up for active duty.
“You meet a lot of really cool people with a lot of interesting stories,” Miller-Tormey said. “So working with them and serving your country that’s really what I’m looking forward to and there’s not really anything I’m not looking forward to.”
He said he can always reenlist and continue serving. “I’m just all for it,” he said.
The day after
The day after graduation, Mitchell Zabel had to be at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Milwaukee. Next he was headed to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for boot camp. Being active duty, Zabel will stay in Oklahoma for job training (air defense artillery).
“I get to pick what I do, but we’re all infantry in the end, I guess,” he said.
Zabel looks forward to forming a brotherhood with others and doing what he can to serve his country. He and the others who were interviewed at the library said they’re least looking forward to training.
Zabel enlisted in July 2018 and had been going to workout sessions weekly at the recruiting station in Janesville. He said he started thinking about joining the Army freshman year, “when they started pushing us to figure out what we wanted to do after high school.”
That, he said was not a bad thing.
As Miller-Tormey reminded, “You can’t graduate without a plan.”
“It’s always been in the back of my mind, and paying for college and having to go to school another four years didn’t really sound that good to me,” continued Zabel, who eventually might go to college but says his primary goal is to have a military career.
Johnson heads to Milwaukee July 7. After MEPS, he goes to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for 89 days. He then has a 10-day leave before heading back to California for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. His military occupational specialty will be bulk fuel supply so he will go to school in Virginia.
He, too, looks forward to the brotherhood, new family and seeing lots of different places.
Johnson said he’s definitely not looking forward to training, but he said, “It’s part of the journey.”
Once he’s finished there, Johnson plans to go to college at Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, Michigan, and study criminal justice and economics. He might transfer in-state because he said then his tuition would be covered.
This February he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. His story begins with a trip to Woodman’s in Janesville.
“It’s a weird story,” he said. “Went to Woodman’s. I got stuff. I went home.”
At home, his mom got a phone call.
“She never answers phone numbers she doesn’t know,” he said. “Here, it’s the Janesville Police Department. Do you have a son? Was he at Woodman’s? Does he drive a black Ford?”
The answer to all those questions was yes. The answer to whether she had an African-American son who had been to Woodman’s with a female in the car was no.
Johnson said the police were calling because there had been a robbery.
Less than a minute later, he said the phone rang again. Johnson told his mom to answer the phone. She did and turned on speaker phone. It’s a recruiter. Johnson, who had thought about joining the military before college, agreed to meet with the recruiter the next day. Prior to then, he hadn’t thought about it seriously.
“If it wasn’t for me making my mom answer the Janesville police call, I probably would never be where I am right now,” he said.
End of summer
When a nuclear officer talked to his financial literacy class, Richmond found the nuclear engineering field interesting. In August he signed up for the Navy, and he has a six-year contract.
Richmond said, “It seemed like a great way to get an education and learn about the world and achieve personal growth.”
At the end of summer, he will head to boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Great Lakes, Ill. Then he will go to the Nuclear Power School, a technical school operated by the U.S. Navy in Goose Creek, South Carolina, for two years.
“For the first two years that’s like intensive college,” he said. “Not only do I get free tuition after the fact, I also get a lot of on-the-job experience.”
Miller-Tormey said, “I definitely recommend joining the military for anybody that’s wondering if they should or not.”
“There are so many different options and paths you could take,” Johnson added — and that’s with each military branch.
He said, “This is what I want to do. I have my path and mostly carved out what I want to do. This is the best path for me to do it.”
Miller-Tormey said, “You decide your job at MEPS. You decide you want to join way before MEPS.”
Miller-Tormey has always had an interest in the military and the World War I and World War II eras, but hadn’t thought of joining the military himself until 2017 when an Army recruiter went around to students’ tables during lunch. He recalls it wasn’t a pressure situation. He was still 16 then but added his phone number to a list. As soon as he turned 17, he started talking to the recruiter more, and in March of 2018, he went to MEPS.
Like others who chose to serve in the military out of high school, Richmond commented, “I know where I am going. Some people don’t have a path.”
Plus, he said, “I’ve gotten so many ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Good job, Eli’ that I really can’t (change my mind).”
Richmond looks most forward to “getting to see the world, trying to find things in life that are engaging my sense of competition and comradery.” What he’s least looking forward to is the heat and humidity in South Carolina.
The training isn’t that bad, Miller-Tormey told them. And, he said, “the heat, you get used to it, your body adapts.”
When asked what advice he might have for the others, he said, “It’s all mental. It’s all a mental game. Your body’s going to want to give out but if you just tell yourself like I can keep doing this, you’re going to keep going. Just keep pushing yourself.”