Young adults in service
Sophia Agtarap | Minister of online engagement
School was getting too expensive. I felt like I was hitting a brick wall in my life, so I decided to try something different that would force me to progress. That’s why I joined the military.
Jo's story isn’t uncommon. Joining the Air Force was an option that provided structure and a way forward. Though it was difficult being away from his tight-knit family and from the comforts of familiar surroundings, he was able to adapt to a new lifestyle which he now enjoys.
His cousin, Erin, also didn’t see the military in his list of options. At least not at first. In their family, finishing college was the primary goal they were to reach. And because of this, he found himself excelling in a variety of subjects he set off to study. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and study mechanical engineering, but with so many interests, he jumped from major to major and took classes that weren’t necessarily required for his degree. Before he knew it, he had racked up so much debt that he settled on working to pay off college loans. As interest rates increased, so did his debt. Soon, he was only able to pay off the minimums.
There was nothing else I felt I could do on my own as a person of faith, so I turned over my problems to God and waited for an answer.
At that time, his church re-established their youth group and one of their older friends was leading it. He deeply inspired us in our Bible studies and I remembered that he was in the service. I asked him about different branches and types of service (active duty, reserves, and national guard) and long story short, he found me a recruiter that could offer me jobs with enlistment bonuses. I weighed the rest of my options and prayed to God that if I was making the wrong choice He would steer me to a different direction.
April 11, 2009, Erin was sworn in and by July, he was in basic training. Basic training was really tough for someone with my background of zero military experience, he recalls. The Christian services every Sunday were what got him through. In tech-school, his flight brothers became his support group. A lot of people he knew, including his cousins who are in the service, considered higher education but felt that joining would be a better direction in their lives.
When the time comes, Erin has the option to continue serving or go back to school and study chemical engineering. He'll make that decision when it presents itself.
A different pull
Perry had different reasons for joining. There were a whole slew of reasons, he says, but mostly because of patriotism. I wanted to be a part of history after 9/11. When 9/11 happened, I was still in high school. I wanted to join the Marine Corps, but couldn’t join because I needed to be 18. Mom needed to sign contract but she didn’t want to do it. I was young, and mom wanted to protect me.
After high school, Perry did the usual college thing. But as he continued to watch the news, he wanted more and more to be a part of what the armed forces were doing in the Middle East. So he did his research and spoke with a recruiter in 2005.
Perry had already decided that joining the military wasn’t going to be like the movies. He knew that there were days where he’d be disgruntled, but decided that if he focused on being the best soldier by being technically and tactically proficient, he’d do fine. And he did. In fact, it was in the struggles that he found his joy.
As a young adult who grew up in the United Methodist Church, his faith has evolved. Before I joined, he reflects, I was active. People kept asking, how are you going to serve God? I responded: By serving my country. He knew that people would know by his actions. But that stance has changed. It’s been a roller coaster ride, he says.
In my Special Forces training, I started having doubts. I put it in my head that there’s no one else who can help me out. There’s nothing anyone can do. it’s all through my own willpower and how ready I can be. That line of thinking came about when I felt completely crushed after failing a course. Instead of them kicking me out, they let me re-cycle. I was devastated having to go through the 12-week course again. I was so focused that I forgot what got me there in the first place. I would still pray especially when things weren’t going well, but it made me realize that I couldn't just sit idle. I had to also act. They train you a certain way—to make you feel like you’re the best, that no one can touch you. I believed it. I believed I was the alpha male. It was during that time I started to question faith as a whole. That maybe people could do this without God. I started to think of other people who were successful, whether they were religious or not, whether this was a waste of time…but these questions went unanswered.
Reconnecting to community
After graduating and moving to Washington State, Perry was reconnected to a faith community that he was familiar with. He attended a Filipino United Methodist congregation and spiritually and culturally, it felt like home. Even though I was busy with work, I had a church community, he says. Everytime I went back to church, it was refreshing. It was a different environment from my day to day military lifestyle. I need rest and this community provided a refuge—something different from what my life revolved around.
The church has allowed him to answer some of those questions that were left unanswered. He realized that going to church and investing in his faith wasn’t a waste of time.
You can succeed and reach your goals through the support system that church provided. Yes, there are those who don’t, but this support system and faith and family has helped me through these years. It wasn’t just church, but people around me, even at work. One of the guys who trained us into shape, my first team sergeant, was really tough on us. And I looked up to him. And I wondered what made him how he was. All he had was the army. It was his whole life. He didn't have a family. Had been in it for 20 years. It made me realize that this shouldn’t be it. It shouldn’t be all you are. There were times when I would be out somewhere on assignment and hear that people were praying for me or thinking of me—that was a reminder of what this was all about and why I wanted to serve. And I realize not a lot of people have that.
Now that he’s a father, he wants to be even more involved in his local church. Mom was a big support in me getting involved with church again and reconnecting to my faith. In order for me to keep going down this positive path, I knew I needed to put some of my energy in getting involved with a community. I know I could help out other people now, too. I’ve experienced a lot and am thankful and I want to be able to share that with people.
Perry has a renewed sense of understanding of community, faith, and God because of the birth of his son. I felt like I’ve been away from the action, from deployment for so long that it allowed me to see the big picture, rather than being so focused on the next deployment and the next training. It allowed me to look at my life. Maybe it’s something I needed to gain perspective.
He’s come to realize that sometimes your plans don’t always go through. And even if some parts are planned, God has something different, perhaps unexpected for you. You might know what’s best but God maybe has another perspective to show us, if we're willing to open our eyes and ears.
Over the last two years, tens of thousands have come home from war…to heal from wounds both visible and invisible, to face unemployment, housing and other domestic issues. Join thousands across the country in making January 21 a day of service. Learn more, here.
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