Choosing to serve


Brandon Pohl

In less than a month, students everywhere will be walking out of their high schools and into the real world. They have many questions on what they want to do with their life. Should they go to college, or get a job right out of high school? Maybe they will take a year off to travel. But a select few are thinking not of what they can do for themselves, but of what they can do for their country.

  West Ottawa has had many graduates throughout the years choose to go into the military. In the last three years, more than 40 have joined one of the branches. One of these graduates is WO Alumni Noah Dekker, a graduate of the class of 2015. One of the reasons Dekker chose to join the military is because of the high cost of secondary education. “My parents told me they wouldn’t be able to pay for my college, and I didn’t want to try and work and go to college because I heard that only makes it harder with trying to keep up with studying. The military gives you the G.I. Bill to go to college for free after you serve, and tuition assistance if you want to get a degree while you’re serving,” Dekker said.

  While monetary assistance was a big part, the military also gave more intrinsic benefits to Dekker. “I also saw joining the military as a challenge, which made me want to do it more. I also wanted to see the world and about different cultures.” But the main reason Dekker chose to join the military was a sense of responsibility. “I joined the military to serve my country. I was only a little kid when 9/11 happened, and I may not remember as much about it as others do, but I did realize how scared it made people; teachers, family, people on TV. And when I turned 18 and was able to enlist, the threat of terror was still present. I knew I had to.” Dekker is serving in the US Marines.

Hoekstra, in Navy, standing in the Big House with some girls from Air Force ROTC

  Katherine Hoekstra, class of 2016, chose to pursue both college and the military. She is training with Navy ROTC at the University of Michigan while also pursuing a degree in physics. Hoekstra has always felt the call to serve but was very passionate about schooling as well. When she discovered she could do both with ROTC, she knew it was the path for her. “I’ve always been drawn by service of any kind. So when I was looking at college and ways to pay for college, I realized there was a way I could go to college, serve my country, and challenge myself mentally, morally, and physically,” Hoekstra said. She had considered the Naval Academy but chose to go with ROTC because she could get the college experience, and still become a Naval officer. The biggest reason Hoekstra chose the military, besides serving her country, was it gave her the time she needs to decide what she wants to do with her life. “The Navy gives me a base to go off for almost any job afterwards.” Hoekstra has always been extremely driven, and her talents will be put to good use protecting our nation.

Alumni Joshua Sanchez didn’t make the decision to join the military until after high school. He realized he was going to have trouble paying for college so he started looking into different options. “I was drawn to the Co
ast Guard for the humanitarian work they did, but as I did my research, I found out they did more in defense with drug and migrant interception missions around Florida and the Pacific, and work done in the Middle East.” Sanchez is really looking forward to the opportunity to travel. He decided to sign on with reserves so he could still finish college. He has been in reserves for a few months, and he is loving the experience. “I’m going to go to Virginia for two weeks and South Carolina for the rest of this summer for training. I absolutely love being out on the water. I think I found the perfect first job out of college.”

  Several seniors in this year’s graduating class have chosen to join the military.
One of these is Sr. Skylar Goar. Goar has chosen to join the Air Force and will be
shipping out for basic training June 6.  Goar had decided she didn’t have an interest in going straight back to school after she graduated. “I was between [the military] and college, and going directly from high school to college wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I did some research and found the Air Force.” If Goar does decide to go to college, the military will help her
pay for it.

  Two of West Ottawa’s seniors this year were accepted to the US military academies. Sr. Paul Harrington was accepted to West Point and Sr. Alex Miller was accepted to both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. Miller was first put on his path towards being an officer during the 8th grade field trip to Washington, DC.  “[The trip] really made me appreciate how sublime our country really is and how privileged we are to have the freedoms that we do,” Miller said. “However, freedom, of course, isn’t free. Arlington Cemetery and the Iwo Jima memorial were sobering reminders of this. I remember looking over row after row of those white headstones and just being overwhelmed. Under every single one of those is an individual of incredible honor and character. I decided from then on that I wanted to be like them, that I wanted to serve my country and protect what was passed on by those before us.” Miller’s character and personality played a large part in his choice to become an officer. “I’ve always enjoyed being on a team. I like competition, and especially competition in that sort of atmosphere. I also strive to lead others and orient my efforts toward a cause greater than myself, so in hindsight, it’s really not surprising that I’ve decided to join the military and go the officer route.” Miller has chosen to attend the Air Force Academy in the fall.

For Harrington, joining the military had been an interest since he was very young.
 “I watched all the war movies and documentaries and had a room covered in camouflage. This childhood interest slowly turned into an actual ambition.” Like Miller, Harrington has a deeply held respect for those who came before him, and the country he will be serving. “My awe of the men who served, and their stories, grew. I found that I wanted to serve in the military because I loved my country, and I thought that I could make a positive impact. In these uncertain times, there’s a need for leadership, and I believe that I have
equipped myself with the skills necessary to be an effective and just leader. I decided to serve because I want to ensure the protection of the greatest source of inspiration, hope,
and freedom in the world; America. If not me, then who?”

  At convocation and graduation, people in our school and community will get to hear about all the places West Ottawans will be going.But keep an eye out for the students with the red, white, and blue cords that signify their commitment to our country.