An honorable path: PV seniors prepare for a future in the military
November 19, 2019
In celebration of Military Family Month, the Spartan Shield would like to recognize the seniors planning to join the U.S. Military in the fall of 2020. Known applicants include Anton Dahm, Maria Vaaler, Caleb Hawbaker, Weston Douvakais and Will Rolfstad. Their ambitious attitudes make this senior class of 2020 memorable and one that holds great potential.
An ROTC soldier in the making: Maria Vaaler’s road to a military future
Taking and giving orders, cleaning one’s room, completing strict exercises and attending classes are just a few of the tasks new ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) cadets are required to perform. While some high schoolers may see these habits as arbitrary and uniform, senior Maria Vaaler is eager to take on these demanding routines.
With family ties to the military, Vaaler has always felt a strong connection to the U.S. Armed Forces and the fundamentals on which it was built. In the upcoming year, Vaaler plans to follow in her relatives’ footsteps and join the Army ROTC at the University of Iowa with a focus in medicine.
As many military families know, having a loved one serve their country is a great honor. Vaaler has deep respect for the sacrifices her grandfather, uncle and other distant relatives have made in investing their lives in the military. Her uncle’s dedication to this program is what originally fueled Vaaler’s interest in the Naval Academy.
“I remember being interested in the military ever since I was a kid. As I got older and learned about my uncle going to the Naval Academy, I started doing more research and realized that I could incorporate college and the military by going the officer route,” she said. And with that, Vaaler’s interest in the U.S. Military took off.
In June 2019, Vaaler attended a Naval Academy Summer Seminar to get a taste for the academy life. After experiencing the intense endurance building activities with her team, she truly felt the desire to become apart of this military family.
“The atmosphere and energy of the school felt like a perfect fit for me. I wanted to serve and I wanted to learn in an environment that aims to challenge you physically, mentally and academically in every way possible,” she said.
Although she found a love for the Naval Academy, Vaaler realized that in order for her to study medicine while training, she would have to find a path that would better allow her to practice her chosen field. Vaaler decided the ROTC would be a better fit with it’s program designed to train college students to become officers in the U.S. Armed Forces.
With the University of Iowa enabling her to study medicine while also receiving military training, Vaaler knew she had found the perfect match. In being the only known female applicant from PV, Vaaler hopes to inspire others. “I hope that if I can leave an influence on others, it’s just to show that the most important things in life are hard work, honesty, and service and I hope I can be a role model that demonstrates how important those are,” explained Vaaler.
As the interest to become an active duty soldier declines, Vaaler still holds steadfast loyalty towards the importance of the U.S. military. “I believe that service to your country and the freedoms it gives you is beyond important, and so for those who feel the call to serve, I don’t believe there is any better path than the military,” she said.
DAHMinating the Air Force
For the majority of high school seniors, the school year is spent filling out numerous applications for their higher education. However, some Pleasant Valley students are spending their time outside of school preparing to serve their country instead.
Of the handful of students taking on this journey, senior Anton Dahm is one choosing to follow this distinct path towards achieving a position as an officer in the United States Air Force.
Having had many members of his extended family as a part of the military, Dahm has dreamt of this journey since childhood. However, his dream became a reality in high school, as he began to take on many local opportunities.
The Civil Air Patrol is one of these many opportunities that prompted Dahm’s decision of pursuing a career in defending his country. Dahm, who has been a part of the Civil Air Patrol for three years, discovered the organization while attending the local air show.
Serving as an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, the non-profit organization has given Dahm many chances to help educate cadets in the organization’s programs. “It’s given me insight on how the Air Force operates, but also how my skills can contribute to the community,” Dahm said.
The program has allowed Dahm to improve important skills that are essential to both his high school and his future career, such as public speaking and teamwork.
Applying these skills prior to joining the United States Air Force will help future Airmen, like Dahm, transition better into following the Air Force’s strict standards. “Air Force careers are often physically and mentally demanding,” said the Air Force. However, with Dahm’s driven mindset, he is ready to take on such a challenge.
The future Airman is already one step ahead towards achieving his dream. He is currently working through the application process for the Air Force Academy. If accepted, Dahm will begin his basic training in June of 2020 and continue attending the academy for the following four years. A secondary option for Dahm is to attend a Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program in college.
Though Dahm has confirmed his decision in pursuing such a career, he still has concerns. “Obviously there’s some anxiety being away from what I’m used to, but I made sure this was 100 percent what I wanted to do,” he said. The process will not be easy; however, Dahm’s character made him confident he was making the right decision.
Already taking on leadership roles at Pleasant Valley High School, Dahm is undoubtedly set to take his role on a national perspective. “I’m looking forward to it overall,” he said. “When helping others is a priority, remarkable things get done.”
Student in training purses military aspirations and passion for videogames
The experiences of generations prior and a desire to serve his country have driven senior Weston Douvikas to join the National Guard.
Douvikas has chased his aspirations of joining the National Guard ever since his junior year. Over the summer, he took part in Basic Combat Training to give him the official title of Soldier. To become his desired position of Military Police Officer, he will be completing Advanced Individual Training.
Growing up in a family with veterans, Douvikas has had military dreams since his childhood. “My great grandfather, who served during Vietnam, and my great great grandpa, who served during World War II, drove me to enlist as well.” said Douvikas.
The National Guard is a reserve component of the US military comprised of part-time members and officers, preparing to protect at political events or natural disasters.
“With aspirations to serve his country and the accompanying college benefits, Douvikas felt the National Guard would be a good fit for him.”
With aspirations to serve his country and the accompanying college benefits, Douvikas felt the National Guard would be the best fit for him. As part of the National Guard, he will serve as a Military Police Officer. As an officer, he will be tasked with guarding installations, enforcing UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) law, conducting regular patrols and safeguarding overall public security. “If I am ever to deploy, I would respond to natural disasters, riots, and other large events requiring security,” he said.
While in the National Guard, he plans on pursuing his interest in Game Design and Interactive Analytics at a university in Des Moines. Once he is done with his four years in college, he plans on taking his talents from the National Guard to the video game industry, where he hopes to create entertainment for people, whether it be through video games, movies or even books.
“For me personally, I grew up with video games and they’ve always had a lasting impact on me,” said Douvikas, “I want to be able to do that as well and hopefully have a lasting emotional impact.”
Combining his passion for video games and his desire to serve his country, Douvikas’ plans to join the National Guard with hopes of serving the country the way his ancestors did before.
Meet Will Rolfstad, Future Army Officer
While the majority of students plan on going on to higher education and then a career after high school, Senior Will Rolfstad is choosing to embark on a different journey.
Rolfstad will either attend a military academy or participate in a Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC ) program, training him to be commissioned in the US Army or Navy as an officer.
For students wanting to join the military, there are two main options. To be an enlisted service member, recruits have to graduate high school, take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and go through Basic Training. For students without a college degree, this is the only path.
However, for students who want to be officers in the armed services, they can attend a military academy like West Point or go through an ROTC program offered at various colleges. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, students can be commissioned in the armed services as officers.
Rolfstad’s decision of serving stems from several sources. “I’m going into the military to pay for my college and to defend my country and its values,” he said. “I hope to improve on my leadership skills, self-discipline, communication and courage through the military.”
Different training routes offer many benefits as well, a fact that Rolfstad acknowledges. “I will either be attending an academy, which includes a free [paid by the US government] college education at a top-tier school, or participating in ROTC,” he said.
ROTC programs offer up to a four-year college education, room and books, as long as academic and military training standards are maintained.
Although graduates owe nothing in student loans, they do owe their country years of military service. Of these years, five are active duty service and three are devoted toward the Inactive Ready Reserve.
Rolfstad’s experiences at Pleasant Valley have prepared him well for his future. “In high school, I’ve had to push myself physically, mentally and emotionally to achieve goals, regardless of adversity,” he said. “Through these challenges, I’ve developed self-confidence, hard work and leadership, which will help me succeed in the military.”
The US Army believes the best preparation for military service comes from high school experiences. “Currently, the single best predictor of an individual’s likelihood of adapting to the military is a traditional high-school diploma.”
New student continues to follow military aspirations
Senior Caleb Hawbaker recently arrived at Pleasant Valley and is hoping to make his way into the Air Force.
Hawbaker enjoys spending time outside, fishing, hunting and playing rugby, however he aspires to serve his country. After just moving the Quad Cities from Waverly, he hopes his various interests will connect him with the community.
Hawbaker has been inspired by members of his family that were also in the military, “my grandma was in the Army, my grandpa was a Marine and my step dad was in the Navy,” he explained. The military presence in his family led him to explore the options, which led him to choose a different branch than those of his family.
“My preferred branch would be the Air Force,” he said. “After meeting with all of the different recruiters I believed it best suited me.” The Air Force is one of five main military branches and can be described as “[t]he nation’s source of air and space power.”
The Air Force was particularly attractive to Hawbaker due to the education benefits. GI bill benefits would allow him to serve and pursue further education, an option well-suited for Hawbaker.
Joining the military is a personal decision. For Hawbaker, his relatives who served opened his eyes to the possibilities. However, from talking to them, recruiters, and doing his own research, he set his focus on a branch less known to his family.
His grandmother, Kim Marovets, is a veteran, and she is thrilled her grandson is choosing to take on this path. “I did a tour in Iraq while serving in the Army,” she said. “I am very proud that Caleb is considering joining the military.”
For Marovets, joining the military is an accomplishment. Hawbaker will carry on a legacy, and his grandmother will watch him become a role model. ”I believe that he will be a good example for his brothers and sisters,” she said.
Hawbaker’s military future is not locked in; he still has some time to ensure this is the path he wishes to follow. But as of now, Hawbaker plans on getting an education, serving the country through the Air Force, and making his grandmother proud.